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BMJ Case Rep. 2016 Sep 16;2016. pii: bcr2016216718. doi: 10.1136/bcr-2016-216718.

Large retropharyngeal abscess: a case of mistaken identity.

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Department of Otorhinolaryngology, Ninewells Hospital, Dundee, UK.


We report an unusual case of nasopharyngeal carcinoma (NPC), presenting initially as a retropharyngeal collection. We discuss the investigation, diagnosis and management of NPC and furthermore review the literature of NPC, emphasising the varied presentation. A 44-year-old Caucasian male ex-smoker presented with a 10-day history of a painless left-sided neck lump; progressive dysphagia and unintentional weight loss. Examination demonstrated a large left posterior pharyngeal swelling with soft palatal effacement, confirmed on nasoendoscopy. A CT scan revealed a fluid collection in the retropharyngeal space, which partially occluded the nasopharynx, and numerous satellite lesions were identified along with cervical lymphadenopathy. The suspected abscess was drained in theatre and nasopharyngeal biopsies were taken. These revealed Epstein-Barr virus-positive NPC. Staging investigations revealed a T4N2M0l carcinoma. Treatment consisted of radical chemoradiation therapy with curative intent. NPC is known for its varied and late presentation, and is an important condition to be aware of when considering a differential diagnosis of pharyngeal masses.

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