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Throat Cancer

Symptoms, risk factors and treatment of throat cancer

Throat cancer is cancer that develops in your pharynx (throat), larynx (voice box) or tonsils (though this is often diagnosed on its own as tonsil cancer). Throat cancer can affect all three of these places, as well as the epiglottis, which is the piece of cartilage that covers the windpipe.

Depending on exactly where the cancer develops in these three areas, the cancer will have a different name. Common types include nasopharyngeal cancer, oropharyngeal cancer, hypopharyngeal cancer, glottis cancer, supraglottic cancer and subglottic cancer.

Throat Cancer Symptoms

Symptoms of throat cancer may not show up in the earliest stages of the disease, but once they appear, they will include issues like sudden weight loss, pain or difficulty swallowing, swelling or pain in the neck, ear pain, hoarseness or change in the voice, wheezing and raspy breathing, difficulty breathing, persistent cough and strep throat, swollen lymph nodes in the neck and coughing blood.

Throat Cancer Risk Factors

Risk factors for cancer of the throat are largely lifestyle-related and include the following:

  • Chewing or smoking tobacco
  • Excessive drinking
  • HPV (human papillomavirus)
  • Lack of fruits and vegetables
  • Poor dental hygiene
  • Asbestos exposure

These factors on their own do not necessarily indicate throat cancer, but should be reported to a doctor when listing symptoms.

Throat Cancer Treatment

Once symptoms are reported to a doctor, he or she will use a scope to look down your throat and perform a procedure called an endoscopy. An endoscopy will take pictures of your throat that can be checked for abnormalities. A tissue sample may also be removed for biopsy and imaging tests may be ordered to look deeper at the surface of your throat.

Once it is determined that the condition is throat cancer, treatment may include surgery to remove the tumor, and / or radiation and chemotherapy. Surgical options include traditional surgery, transoral robotic surgery and transoral laser microsurgery (minimally invasive surgeries that involve removing the tumor through the mouth).

After treatment, speech rehabilitation or therapy to overcome swallowing issues may be necessary. Reconstructive surgery may also be necessary to help repair damage done while removing the tumor.

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