Throat Cancer Symptoms and Long-Term Effects

Throat cancer is cancer of the larynx (sometimes called a voice box), which is the organ in the front of the esophagus between the pharynx and trachea. The larynx helps with breathing, speaking, and swallowing.

Throat cancer can form tumors that can push on nearby structures around the throat and spread to other parts of the body. This article describes the symptoms and effects of throat cancer.

symptom

Early symptoms of throat cancer are also common in many other diseases.

Some possible symptoms are:

  • hoarse
  • sore throat
  • hard to swallow
  • Difficulty breathing
  • bad breath
  • earache
  • lose weight

It is important to seek medical attention if you experience any of these symptoms, especially if they persist for more than a few weeks.

how it spread

When cancer spreads to other parts of the body, it’s called metastasis. Throat cancer is most likely to spread to the lymph nodes in the neck. From there it can spread to the back of the tongue, other parts of the neck, and into the lungs.

Cancer cells can enter the blood or lymphatic system and be carried to other parts of the body. If left untreated, throat cancer can spread throughout the body.

Causes and Risk Factors

Certain risk factors that make you more likely to develop throat cancer include:

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  • Age 55 or above
  • male
  • smokes
  • drinking
  • have previously been diagnosed with head or neck cancer
  • exposure to certain chemicals, including asbestos, sulfuric acid, or nickel
  • GERD (acid reflux)
  • HPV infection

Toxin exposure, especially smoking, can cause cells in the throat to change and become cancerous. Other factors, such as HPV infection and gastroesophageal reflux disease, can also damage cells in the throat, causing changes that can lead to cancer.

Having some of these factors doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get throat cancer.

diagnosis

There are several different tests used to diagnose throat cancer. Your doctor may feel a lump in your neck or swelling in the back of your throat — but these signs aren’t always present in throat cancer.

If necessary, additional tests will be ordered, which may include:

  • Fiberoptic laryngoscopy: This test can be done by an otolaryngologist (otolaryngologist) in the office. It’s done with an oscilloscope, a very thin flexible instrument that goes through the nose into the pharynx to see the larynx. The lining of the nose is numb with a local anesthetic to prevent any discomfort and nausea.
  • Direct laryngoscopy: In this test, your doctor will use a laryngoscope (a tube with a light at the end that is inserted into your nose or mouth) to look at your throat. This test requires sedation and is usually done in a surgical center or hospital.
  • CT scan: This is an imaging test that can be used to show structures in the neck or other parts of the body.
  • Biopsy: This is an invasive test in which a small sample of the relevant area is taken and viewed with a microscope to assess the characteristics of the cells.
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treat

Treating throat cancer can involve multiple medical specialists, including otolaryngologists, oncologists, and radiation oncologists.

The exact treatment will depend on your specific condition and will usually involve surgery to remove as much of the cancer as possible. Depending on the stage of your cancer, you may need a partial or total laryngectomy.

Localized radiation to cancer cells can be given before surgery to reduce the size of the tumor, or it can be given after surgery to eradicate as many cancer cells as possible. Chemotherapy is used in some cases of throat cancer.

Throat cancer is very treatable if caught early

long term impact

You may need a tracheostomy after throat cancer surgery. This is a tube that goes around your neck so you can breathe. Sometimes a tracheostomy is temporary, but sometimes it is permanent.

Perhaps one of the most devastating side effects of throat cancer is its effect on speech. If you have a permanent tracheostomy, you will have to learn how to speak in a new way. You will receive lessons from a speech-language pathologist to help you learn to speak.

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Some patients choose to use a mechanical larynx to speak. A variety of mechanisms are available. Some are air powered and some are battery powered. Some devices require you to hold them against your throat, while others need to be inserted into your mouth. You may need to try more than one type with the help of a speech pathologist to find the device that works for you.

Many patients who have tracheostomy always keep a pencil and a piece of paper nearby to communicate while learning how to speak after surgery. Sign language may also be a viable option for you and your family.

VigorTip words

While throat cancer can be devastating and the road to recovery can be long and difficult, there are many resources that can help you. In addition to your medical team, you will need support from family and friends.