Throat cancer is a cancer that develops in the pharynx (larynx).
There are several types of throat cancer, including nasopharyngeal, oropharyngeal, and pharyngeal cancer.
Symptoms may vary depending on the location and type of tumor. Many symptoms are easy to ignore, especially if they are not causing severe distress. However, it is important to seek medical attention if you experience any bothersome symptoms affecting your mouth or throat.
Common symptoms of throat cancer:
- persistent cough
- hard to swallow
- persistent hoarseness or having to clear your throat frequently
- sore throat
- bloody phlegm
- a lump in the throat
- change your voice
- Abnormal breath sounds
- lump on the neck
Symptoms can come and go. Persistent doesn’t always mean constant. For example, your sore throat might last a week, then go away for a few days, then come back. If you have intermittent or persistent symptoms for two weeks or more, you should make an appointment to see a healthcare professional. Delays in diagnosis may affect your treatment outcomes.
Smoking is a well-known cause of throat cancer. Smoking exposes your body to carcinogens, chemicals that cause cells in your body to become cancerous.
The researchers also identified a number of risk factors that may increase the risk of cancer, especially in people who smoke. Some of these factors can independently cause throat cancer or act as co-carcinogens—meaning they amplify the ability of carcinogens, such as tobacco, to cause cancer. For example, alcohol enhances the ability of tobacco to cause cancer.
Risk factors and causes of throat cancer include:
- alcohol consumption
- Human papillomavirus (HPV) through unprotected oral sex
- dietary exposure
- Epstein-Barr virus
- Occupational Contact
- chew betel nut
- genetic susceptibility
Symptoms may suggest a diagnosis of throat cancer. During your visit, your doctor will review your health history to determine if you are at risk for throat cancer. Be sure to let them know if you are a smoker, or if you drink alcohol, or if you have any other habits that may be bad for your health.
During your physical exam, your doctor will feel for any lumps or other abnormalities in your throat area. If you have signs of throat cancer, you may be referred to an otolaryngologist, also called an otolaryngologist. This type of doctor specializes in diseases related to the ears, nose, and throat.
Diagnostic Procedures and Staging
Your ENT may examine you with a laryngoscope. During this procedure, a thin fiberoptic scope is put into the throat so your doctor can see the back of your throat, larynx, and vocal cords.
During a laryngoscopy, if any suspicious areas are found, a tissue sample may be taken. This is called a biopsy and can be examined under a microscope to determine whether cancer cells are present in the sample.
If cancer is found, it is necessary to determine whether it has spread to nearby tissues or organs. This process is called staging. The stage of throat cancer will affect which treatment is recommended for you.
There are several factors to consider when developing a throat cancer treatment plan.
Factors that guide treatment include:
- age and overall health
- type and location of cancer
- whether the cancer has spread
Surgery and radiation therapy are standard treatments for throat cancer. Surgical resection is usually performed in all stages of this condition and can sometimes cure early-stage throat cancer. Surgery may involve laser treatment to remove cancerous tissue, or it may be invasive and extensive.
Radiation therapy is the main treatment and is sometimes used after surgery to get rid of any remaining cancer cells or to remove cancerous tissue that could not be removed during surgery.
Some people with throat cancer may receive chemotherapy to treat the disease. It is often combined with other treatments, such as surgery and/or radiation therapy, as neoadjuvant or adjuvant therapy.
Throat cancer signs to look out for