Saturday, 28 April 2012


Nasal polyps are growths or masses in the nasal cavity which is not cancerous. It usually arises due to chronic inflammatory process and will continue to increase in size if not treated. It can even cause distortion in the shape of the nose and eventually bulge out through the nostrils in severe cases.
Nasal polyps usually occur in young and middle aged adults. It is uncommon in children. Nasal polyps are often bilateral (both nasal cavities involved). A unilateral polyp is called an antrochoanal polyp which usually arises from the maxillary sinus and affects teens and young adults.
The cause of nasal polyps is open to much debate but it is agreed that an ongoing inflammatory process is the main pathophysiology. There are however certain associated conditions which increase the risk of developing polyps.
These conditions include asthma which is an inflammatory condition of the airways triggered by allergens, chronic rhinosinusitis which is a chronic infection of the sinuses, aspirin sensitivity, allergic fungal sinusitis which is an allergy to airbone fungi, cystic fibrosis especially suspected in children with nasal polyps (rare disease in Malaysia) and other less common syndromes such as Churg Strauss syndrome, Kartagener’s syndrome and Young’s syndrome. Recent understandings have also shown the relevance of family history and certain genetic predisposition to nasal polyps.

The symptoms or nasal polyps are similar to other inflammatory conditions of the nose such as runny nose, post nasal drip and pressure around the face. However when there is persistence in the symptoms especially when associated with unrelenting nasal block/stuffiness, loss of sense of smell or taste, headache, pain around face and teeth and snoring then possibility of nasal polyposis should be considered.

Diagnosis of nasal polyposis can only be confirmed with an endoscopic examination of the nose. A small rigid or flexible scope is inserted into the nose to fully inspect the nasal cavities. It is a simple procedure performed in the ENT clinic. Polyps appear as grapelike structures protruding into the nasal cavities.
Imaging studies are also performed to see the origin of the polyps and extent of the disease. A computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is usually requested. The imaging studies can also reveal possible fungal disease or complications.
Other tests such as allergy test, test for cystic fibrosis or others may be indicated depending on a patient to patient basis.

The treatment of nasal polyps is long term suiting its nature; underlying chronic ongoing inflammatory process. The aims of treatment are to shrink the size of polyps and prevent complications. Most polyps would respond to medical treatment however some would require surgical intervention.
Medical treatment would consist of topical intranasal steroids, oral corticosteroids, antihistamines and antibiotics in various combinations.
Endoscopic sinus surgery is considered when the polyps do not respond to optimal medical treatment. Surgical intervention is also recommended earlier if patients present with complications. Large nasal polyps often may not shrink considerably with medication alone. However patients have to be aware that nasal polyps do recur after surgery. Therefore adequate followup care and ‘maintenance’ medication is necessary to prevent recurrence.

Friday, 20 April 2012


Nasopharyngeal carcinoma (NPC) is a tumour of the nasopharynx which is situated at the deep end of the nose. It has the highest incidence amongst the Chinese of Southeastern region and Hong Kong.  It is one of the top 5 cancers affecting both male and female in Malaysia apart from breast, colorectal (bowel), lung and cervical cancer. The Malaysian National Cancer Registry in 2006 noted an incidence of 7.5 per 100,000 for males and 2.4 per 100,000 for females. Chinese men had the highest incidence rate of 15.9 per 100,000. The age specific incidence increased after 30 years old. 
The nasopharynx is situated at the deep end of the nose which makes it a blind spot to normal clinical examination. Tumors or the nasopharynx also often present late because of this anatomical position.

This disease has a multifactorial origin and is a result of interplay between genetic susceptibility, environmental factors and Epstein Barr virus. There is evidence to suggest that abnormalities in specific chromosomes may play a role in the pathogenesis. Cultural factors linked to NPC which have been observed include consumption of dried salted fish in childhood.

The symptoms of NPC are usually non obvious and only apparent when the tumor has spread, due to the anatomical location of the nasopharynx. More commonly patients present with neck swelling in 50-70% of cases followed by unilateral ear block or tinnitus and nasal obstruction. Other less common symptoms include blood stained nasal discharge or saliva and headache. Advanced disease may present with cranial nerve palsies, altered conscious level or distant tumour spread.

The diagnosis of NPC requires visualization of the nasopharynx region using nasal endoscopy. This endoscopic facility is readily available as an outpatient procedure in ENT clinics. The neck is also palpated to assess for enlarged lymph nodes. Patients with neck swelling and unilateral ear symptoms coupled with high risk ethnicity should always be examined with nasal endoscopy. Endoscopic examination findings in NPC would show as a growth/mass, swelling or obliteration of the Fossa of Rosenmuller. The diagnosis of NPC is confirmed by biopsy and examination of the tissue in the histopathological laboratory. In rare instances, nasal endoscopy may be normal. In these highly suspicious cases the ENT surgeon may suggest examination under general anaesthesia with deep multiple biopsies.

When diagnosis is confirmed, the tumour is then staged by imaging studies. The rationale for tumour staging is to give a true picture of the tumour extension and its related prognosis. Imaging studies include computed tomography (CT) scan of the head and neck area, chest radiograph, abdominal ultrasound and bone scan.

The mainstay of treatment for NPC is radiotherapy with without concurrent chemotherapy.  Early small tumours will do well with radiotherapy alone. Often the radiotherapy is combined with chemotherapy. The oncologist will devise the treatment plan after discussing with the patient.
Nowadays advanced forms of radiotherapy such as intensity modulated radiation therapy (IMRT) can better target the tumour volume thus reducing radiation exposure to normal tissues. The side effects that patients may experience with radiotherapy include skin pigmentation and desquamation, oral ulcers and dryness, tiredness, restricted mouth movements, taste disturbance and hearing changes. These side effects would gradually occur during the course of the treatment and will slowly get better. However some of the side effects such as dry mouth and hearing changes are long term.

After completing the treatment for NPC, the patient is reassessed to ensure good response to the treatment given. Patient is again reviewed by medical history, physical examination along with nasal endoscopy and imaging studies are performed to make sure that the tumour has been eradicated. These clinic reviews are also important to assess for tumour recurrence (return of the tumour), metastasis (distant spread of the disease) and any ongoing problems that the patient may have following treatment. The follow up consultation may be frequent, 3-4 monthly, in the first 2 years and then becomes a 6-12 monthly visit after that.

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