The striking geographical and ethnic distribution of nasopharyngeal carcinoma (NPC) suggests the involvement of genetic and environmental factors in NPC development. The purpose of this study is to investigate the fit of single gene, polygenic and multifactorial models to the observed pattern of transmission of NPC in a hospital-based family history study conducted by the Cancer Center of Sun Yat-Sen University (CCSYU) in Guangzhou, China. Complex segregation analysis of a total of 1903 Cantonese pedigrees ascertained at CCSYU was conducted using a unified mixed model after the pedigrees were partitioned into 3737 nuclear families. The mixed model assumes that a phenotype is influenced by the additive and independent effect of a major gene, together with multifactorial components (genetic and environmental) and a random environmental effect. The current results do not provide evidence for a major gene and the observed data are best explained by a multifactorial mode of inheritance for NPC.