Nasopharyngeal Carcinoma (NPC) is a type of nose cancer that is most common among Malaysian Chinese, followed by the Malay and Indian community, said Ipoh Pantai Hospital Ear, Nose and Throat Consultant and Head and Neck Surgeon, Dr Rekha Balachandran.
She said there was also a high incidence of NPC among the Bidayuh in Sarawak.
"Heredity, lifestyle and Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) infection are the factors causing cancer.
"Having a close family member with NPC increases the risk of the disease, and frequent consumption of preserved food such as salted vegetables and dried fish also contributes to it," she told Bernama in an interview, today.
NPC is cancer that starts in the nasopharynx, the upper part of the throat behind the nose and near the base of the skull.
Saturday's report on national No. 1 badminton star Datuk Lee Chong Wei having been diagnosed with an early stage nose cancer left Malaysians shocked, with thousands of positive messages wishing him a speedy recovery.
The Badminton Association of Malaysia (BAM) president Datuk Seri Mohamad Norza Zakaria said that Chong Wei was currently in Taiwan seeking treatment.
According to Dr Rekha, the first symptom of NPC is often painless swelling or lump in the upper neck and one is advised to consult the doctors if the lump is there for more than three weeks.
"Secondly is nose bleeding. Sometimes when they blow the nose continuously, it will start to bleed. Nasal blockage or stuffiness and reduced hearing, especially on one side only, are the symptoms too," she added.
However, she said NPC could be treated if detected at an early stage.
"The five-year survival rate is actually quite high. For the earliest stage of NPC, stage one and two, the survival rate is 80% to 85%. I have personally seen some patients with NPC survive more than five years ... 10 and 20 years. As long it is detected before a tumour spread too much," she said.
She said NPC was difficult to be diagnosed early because the symptoms were very weak since they were painless.
"Maybe patients with the symptoms won't go to a doctor because they think it is not anything dangerous, and also because a tumour grows in places we can't see, it is very easy to miss it," she added.
Describing NPC as 'the luck of the draw', Dr Rekha said a healthy lifestyle would help to slow down the risk.
"Reducing or eliminating some types of food may lower the NPC risk. Diet should be balanced, eat more fresh greens and fruits and avoid preserved foods," she said.