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Signs of throat cancer

Aug 3, 2023Oral health

Signs of throat cancer

Throat cancer is characterized by an abnormal growth of cells in the pharynx (throat) or larynx (voice box).

The National Cancer Institute has reported that pharyngeal cancer, while rare in the United States, accounts for around 3 percent of all cancer diagnoses. Similarly, laryngeal cancer is estimated to account for 0.7 percent of all cancer diagnoses.

The three primary types of throat cancer are:

  • Oropharyngeal cancer: Develops in the throat (pharynx)
  • Laryngeal cancer: Develops in the voice box (larynx)
  • Hypopharyngeal cancer: Develops at the bottom part of the throat (pharynx)

The indications of throat cancer can vary depending on the area of development and the manner in which it spreads.

It is essential to recognize common signs and symptoms, including:

  • A persistent sore throat
  • A persistent cough
  • Changes in voice (hoarseness)
  • Difficulty swallowing (dysphagia)
  • Ear or jaw pain
  • Swelling/lump in the neck

Additional signs and symptoms of throat cancer may include:

  • White patches or sores may appear in the mouth cavity
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Constant phlegm production
  • Headaches
  • Persistent nasal congestion
  • Nose bleeds
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Bad breath

Cancerous tumors in the larynx, or voice box, can impede a person’s ability to speak. Tumors in the pharynx may become problematic and affect breathing, chewing, and swallowing abilities.


What is throat cancer?

Cancer is a group of diseases characterized by the uncontrolled growth and division of abnormal cells, which can form malignant tumors. When discussing throat cancer, it usually pertains to cancer of the:

  • Gullet
  • Windpipe
  • Thyroid gland

Physicians generally do not refer to a particular type of cancer as “throat cancer”. Rather, they typically describe the malignancy as a head and neck cancer.

The National Cancer Institute (NCI) classifies these as:

  • Oropharyngeal Cancer, a grouping which includes pharyngeal cancer, is one of the many types of oral cavity cancers.
  • Laryngeal cancer

Throat cancer is less frequent compared to other forms of cancer.

According to the National Cancer Institute, oropharyngeal cancer accounts for approximately 2.8% of all cancers and 1.8% of all cancer-related deaths. The probability of being diagnosed with a type of oropharyngeal cancer in the general population is estimated to be around 1.2%.

Approximately 0.7% of new cancer cases and 0.6% of cancer deaths are attributed to laryngeal cancer. It is estimated that 0.3% of individuals will develop this type of cancer at some point in their lives.


What Causes Throat Cancer?

Cellular genetic abnormalities in the throat may contribute to the development of throat cancer, as they can lead to uncontrolled cell proliferation.

An accumulation of cells in a certain area of the throat can result in the formation of a tumor.

The precise cause of cellular mutations related to throat cancer is uncertain. However, recent studies on throat cancer have identified a number of factors that may raise the likelihood of developing this condition.


10 Risk Factors of Throat Cancer

Factors that may increase the chances of developing throat cancer include:

1. Tobacco and alcohol use

Tobacco consumption is the primary contributor to head and neck cancer, including larynx and hypopharynx cancers. Statistics show that smokers are substantially more likely to develop these types of cancers than non-smokers.

Studies have suggested that long-term exposure to secondhand smoking may lead to an increased risk of certain cancers; however, further research is needed to confirm these findings.

Consumption of moderate to high levels of alcohol (more than one drink per day) has been associated with an increased risk of throat cancer, though this risk is not as severe as with smoking.

When combined, the risk of throat cancer is significantly increased.

Vaping has not been conclusively linked to throat cancer, however it can increase an individual’s risk of developing cancer.

2. Human papillomavirus (HPV) Infection

Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is often associated with cervical cancer; however, HPV-positive oropharyngeal cancer has become the most rapidly increasing head and neck malignancy in recent years.

The likelihood of developing HPV-positive throat cancer is contingent upon the strain of HPV to which one was exposed.

HPV 16 and, to a lesser extent, HPV 18 are the most commonly identified strains associated with throat cancer.

3. Excess body weight

Having excessive weight in relation to one’s height is associated with an increased risk of developing laryngeal and oropharyngeal cancer.

Consuming a diet that is rich in plant-based foods, including non-starchy vegetables and whole fruit, has been shown to be associated with weight loss and reduced risk for certain types of cancer.

4. Poor Diet

It is suggested that laryngeal and hypopharyngeal cancers may be associated with inadequate nutrition and vitamin deficiencies.

Adopting a nutritious diet may lower your odds of developing throat cancer.

The American Cancer Society recommends following a balanced diet that includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, while limiting or avoiding consumption of red and processed meats, sugary beverages, and highly processed foods.

5. Genetics

Individuals with hereditary genetic conditions, such as Fanconi anemia and dyskeratosis congenita, are at an increased risk of developing laryngeal cancer.

6. Gastroesophageal reflux disease

Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) occurs when the stomach acid backs up into the esophagus.

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) has been linked to symptoms such as heartburn and an increased risk of both esophageal and hypopharyngeal cancer. Further research is needed to determine if GERD poses a risk factor for hypopharyngeal cancer.

7. Occupational exposure

At the workplace, personnel may be exposed to potential hazards such as sulfuric acid mist, nickel, wood dust, paint fumes, or asbestos, which could lead to an increased risk of developing laryngeal cancer.

Individuals working with these materials must strictly adhere to safety and work standards, such as wearing industrial respirators and ensuring sufficient ventilation in the workspace.

8. Gender

Studies suggest that males are five times more likely to develop laryngeal and hypopharyngeal cancers than females.

It is possible that male individuals may be at a greater risk of certain health concerns due to the prevalence of smoking and excessive alcohol consumption.

9. Age

Throat cancer often develops gradually, making it uncommon among younger age groups.

Approximately more than half individuals diagnosed with throat cancer are aged 65 years or older at the time of diagnosis.

10. Race

Studies have indicated that racial characteristics may be related to the occurrence of throat cancer.

Studies indicate that laryngeal and hypopharyngeal cancers are more common among African Americans and non-Hispanic whites than in Asian/Pacific Islanders and American Indian/Alaska Natives.


Treatment For Throat Cancer

The recommended course of treatment for throat cancers may differ depending on the type, affected area, and stage of cancer.

Common treatment options may include:

  • Surgery: Surgical excision of the tumor, which may involve the partial or total removal of the affected area.
  • Chemotherapy: Use of drugs to target and destroy cancerous cells.
  • Radiation therapy: Use of high-energy rays to eliminate cancerous cells.
  • Targeted therapy: Use of drugs that halt or reduce the progression of cancer cells.

Treatment options for metastatic throat cancer may include chemotherapy and radiation therapy, depending on the extent of the disease’s spread.

Immunotherapy is a promising treatment for throat cancer that harnesses the body’s own immune system to help combat the disease.

Certain treatments for metastatic cancer are intended to be palliative in nature, focusing on reducing symptoms and enhancing quality of life.


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