Precise assessment of the extent of nasopharyngeal carcinoma (NPC) represents the basic step towards optimal treatment. We compared the capacity of CT and MRI in assessing the extent of NPC in 67 patients. MRI was superior to CT in demonstrating lesions in the retropharyngeal node, skull base, intracranial area, carotid space, longus colli muscle and levator palatini muscle. Of 25 cases in which retropharyngeal adenopathy was recognised only on MRI, seven had been reported as showing oropharyngeal involvement and 18 as primary extension to the carotid space on CT. MRI showed skull-base involvement in 40 patients compared with 27 on CT and intracranial involvement in 38 patients versus 24 on CT. There was not a single case in which skull base invasion was seen on CT but not on MRI. MRI enabled improved recognition of tumour infiltration of longus colli muscles (34 cases compared with 15 on CT). It allowed us to clarify 12 questionable sinonasal opacities on CT. Overall, T-staging was changed in 18 of 67 patients (26.9%), including upstaging in 15 cases and down-staging in 3 cases, after comparing CT with MRI. The nodel status was changed from negative on CT to positive on MRI in 4 of 67 patients (6%). We believe that MRI allows more accurate evaluation of the extent of NPC than CT and should be the primary mode of investigation.