Nasopharyngeal carcinoma (NPC) is associated with a high incidence rate in South China and is predominantly treated with radiotherapy; however, the survival rate remains low. The therapeutic effects of radiation and chemotherapy may be enhanced when combined with anti‑sense oligonucleotides targeting human telomerase RNA (hTR ASODN). However, the influence of hTR ASODN on the anti‑tumor effects of radiation in NPC remain unknown. The present study investigated the effects of hTR ASODN on the proliferation and radiosensitivity of NPC cells, and further explored the underlying mechanisms. hTR ASODN significantly inhibited the proliferation and decreased the telomere length of CNE‑2 human NPC cells. Furthermore, combined treatment of hTR ASODN with radiation significantly enhanced anti‑tumor efficacy. The apoptotic rate and cleavage of caspase 9 were increased in the cells treated with the combined therapy, as compared with the cells treated with hTR ASODN or radiotherapy alone. In conclusion, these results suggest that hTR ASODN may inhibit the proliferation of NPC cells and enhance the anti‑tumor effects of radiation by inducing cell apoptosis. Therefore hTR ASODN may be a potential adjuvant agent for the treatment of NPC combined with radiation therapy, and these findings are of translational importance.