Purpose: Nasopharyngeal carcinoma is rare in the United States and common in southern China. Evaluating American patients treated using a uniform technique and staged with CT scanning, we determined whether Chinese and non-Chinese patients differ in presentation and outcome.
Methods and materials: Between 1979 and 1996, 172 patients treated at Massachusetts General Hospital received primary radiotherapy with curative intent for nasopharyngeal carcinoma. Forty-one patients (24%) were of Chinese descent, and 41% of cancers were classified as having lymphoepithelioma histologic features. Most patients received twice-daily radiotherapy and a brachytherapy boost, receiving a median dose of 72 Gy to the nasopharynx.
Results: At the initial presentation, the Chinese patients were significantly younger, less likely to smoke, more likely to have Stage IV disease, and more likely to have cancer with lymphoepithelioma histologic features. After controlling for stage, age, histologic type, and treatment variables, Chinese patients were significantly more likely to develop distant metastases (p <0.05). Although Chinese race does not predict for local control or overall survival, a younger age, continued tobacco use, total radiation dose, and lymphoepithelioma histologic features do.
Conclusion: In a large retrospective analysis of nasopharyngeal carcinoma, Chinese and non-Chinese patients differed significantly in presentation-age, stage, and histologic features-and outcome. We suggest as an explanation differences in intrinsic tumor biology rather than differences in treatment techniques or staging systems. Additional trials in endemic countries are needed to confirm the optimal treatment of Chinese and Chinese-American patients.