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Throat Cancer

Medikoe Health Expert

Medikoe Health Expert

  Koramangala, bengaluru, karnataka, india, Bengaluru     Feb 9, 2017

   9 min     



The throat is a muscular tube that behind the nose and ends in your neck. Throat cancer is the presence of cancerous tumours that develop in your pharynx (throat), larynx (voice box) or tonsils. Cancer usually originates in the flat cells that line the inside of your throat.

Organs susceptible to throat cancer include the voice box that is located below the throat, the epiglottis, which is a piece of cartilage that acts as a lid of the windpipe, vocal cords, oropharynx, etc.

Compared to most other forms of cancer, throat cancer is relatively not that common.

Symptoms of Throat Cancer

Throat cancer is characterised by various symptoms that are usually not considered specific to cancer. This makes it hard for a person to detect it in its early stages. The signs and symptoms include:

Signs and symptoms of throat cancer may include:

  • Persistent cough; in some cases, the patient may cough up blood

  • Changes in the voice; it may seem hoarse, or the patient is unable to speak clearly

  • Dysphagia or difficulty swallowing; there is pain while swallowing

  • Pain in the ear.'

  • A sore throat

  • A lump that does not heal

  • Loss of weight

  • A constant need to clear your throat

  • Wheezing or difficulty in breathing

  • Swelling in the lymph nodes in the neck

If you find that you have any of the above symptoms, please visit a doctor. It may not be throat cancer, but it is still wise to get it checked out.

Causes of Throat Cancer

Cancer occurs when cells start multiplying uncontrollably because of genetic mutations. This is the same with throat cancer, but the cause of the genetic mutation isn't precisely clear. But the medical community has observed and identified certain probable causes or factors that could lead to cancer. Some of them are mentioned below.

  • Smoking or the excessive consumption of tobacco

  • Excessive consumption of alcohol

  • Lack of nutrition

  • Exposure to asbestos

  • Poor dental hygiene

  • genetics

  • In some cases, being infected with human papillomavirus(HPV); it is sexually transmitted

  • A diet lacking in fruits and vegetables

  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)

Throat cancer is sometimes associated with oesophagal, lung, or bladder cancer at the same time due to all of them having the same risk factors.

Types of Throat Cancer

There are different types of throat cancer. They are classified based on the part of the body they originated. The two main types of throat cancer based on the point of origin are:

1. Pharyngeal cancer 

This cancer develops in the throat, which is the muscular tube extending from behind your nose to the top of your windpipe.

This type of cancer is further differentiated as :

  • Nasopharyngeal cancer - This occurs at the part of the throat that is right behind the nose called the nasopharynx.

  • Oropharyngeal cancer - This originates in the part of the throat that is right behind the mouth, called the oropharynx.

  • Hypopharyngeal cancer (laryngopharyngeal cancer) begins in the hypopharynx (laryngopharynx), the lower part of your throat, just above your oesophagus and windpipe.

2. Laryngeal cancer 

This is the type of cancer that occurs in the voice box or the larynx. This is further differentiated as:

  • Glottic cancer originates in the vocal cords.

  • Supraglottic cancer starts from the upper portion of the larynx and affects the epiglottis

  • Subglottic cancer is found below your vocal cords, in the lower part of your voice box.  

Throat cancer is also classified based on the type of cells, their development, growth, etc. This kind of classification helps medical professionals come with an appropriate and efficient treatment plan. The types of cancer-based on the cells involved are called:

3. Squamous cell carcinoma 

The kind of throat cancer that affects the flat cells lining the throat. These cells look like fish scales when checked under a microscope.

  • Adenocarcinoma - The type of throat cancer that affects the glandular cells. 

  • Sarcoma - The type of throat cancer that affects the muscle fibres of the neck.

Prevention of Throat Cancer

Since the causes of throat cancer have n't exactly been determined, doctors haven't found the exact way to prevent the occurrence of throat cancer. The best thing to do would be to reduce the risk of getting throat cancer. This can be done by:

  • Avoiding smoking: If you are a person who is into the habit of smoking, quitting it could probably prevent cancer. There are many ways to help cope with the sudden stop in nicotine consumption. Meet with a doctor who will help you explore the options and quit smoking altogether. If you are someone who doesn't smoke, then it would be wise to continue staying away from cigarettes.

  • Avoid the excessive consumption of alcohol. Drink alcohol moderately and not daily. For healthy adults, that means up to one drink a day for women of all ages and men older than age 65, and up to two drinks a day for men age 65 and younger.

  • See to that your diet includes fruits and vegetables, as these contain vitamins and antioxidants that help reduce the risk of throat cancer.

  • Practise safe sex. People who are infected with the human papillomavirus (HPV), are at a higher risk of acquiring throat cancer. Since HPV is sexually transmitted, you can prevent the infection by limiting your number of sexual partners and using a condom every time you have sex.  HPV can also be prevented by getting yourself vaccinated.

Diagnosis of Throat Cancer

When you visit the doctor, he will study your symptoms, and if they sound like throat cancer symptoms, he recommends a few tests to confirm the diagnosis.  The tests are:

  • Biopsy- This test involves making an incision and removing a sample tissue which will be analysed under a microscope to check for tumorous cells. This procedure is performed in the operating room under general anaesthesia.

  • Fine needle aspiration (FNA)- A needle is inserted into the tumour, and take a sample of a swollen lymph node or sample cells to study it and confirm the diagnosis.

  • Endoscopic biopsy- This is a minimally invasive way of removing a tissue sample for testing for cancer. The procedure involves the use of an endoscope, which is a thin, long tube that is inserted through your mouth, nose, or an incision. The endoscope can also be used to get a closer look at your throat.

  • Laryngoscopy- This procedure makes use of a device similar to an endoscope, but it has a magnifying lens at the end. This device is inserted in your voice box, and the magnifying lens to help your doctor examine your vocal cords.

  • Imaging tests- These tests help determine the extent of cancer, how far it has spread from the surface of your throat or voice box. This includes X-ray, computerised tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and positron emission tomography (PET).

Staging of Throat Cancer

Once cancer is diagnosed, it is essential to know how far it has spread. So the next step is to determine the extent of cancer, also known as staging. Figuring out the stage of your cancer helps determine the kind of treatment approach the doctor should take. There are four stages of throat cancer.

  • Stage 0: The tumour is only on the top layer of cells of the affected part of the throat.

  • Stage 1: The tumour is less than 2 cm and limited to the part of the throat where it started.

  • Stage 2: The tumour is between 2 and 4 cm or may have grown into a nearby area.

  • Stage 3: The tumour is larger than 4 cm or has grown into other structures in the throat or has spread to one lymph node.

  • Stage 4: The tumour has spread to lymph nodes or other distant organs.

Treatment of Throat Cancer

Based on the location and stage of your throat cancer, or the type of cells involved, your overall health, and your personal preferences, the doctor finds a suitable treatment plan. The benefits and side effects are discussed, and the patient and doctor can choose how to treat it.

Some of the treatment methods include:

  • Radiation therapy - This involves the use of high-energy beams from sources such as X-rays and protons that kills the cancer cells due to radiation. Radiation is administered using large machines outside the body or small radioactive seeds and wires that are placed inside your body near the site of cancer. This kind of treatment on its own is ideal when the cancer is in its early stages. In the later stages, radiation therapy might be coupled with other treatment methods.

  • Surgery - There are various types of surgery based on the stage of throat cancer. When it comes to surgery, the part of the throat affected with cancer is surgically removed or resected. Based on the extent of cancer parts may be partially or entirely resected. Parts that are surgically removed could be the surface of the throat or the vocal cords, voice box, throat, cancerous lymph nodes.

  • Chemotherapy - This procedure involves the use of drugs to kill cancer cells. This form of treatment is often coupled with radiation. Certain chemotherapy drugs make cancer cells more sensitive to radiation therapy. But combining chemotherapy and radiation therapy increases the side effects of both treatments.

  • Targeted drug therapy - This makes use of drugs to stop the growth and spread of cancer cells by interfering with the molecules that help accelerate the growth. For example, the drug cetuximab an epidermal growth factor receptor inhibitor, that inhibits cancer cell growth. Targeted therapy is still being researched, and clinical trials are being conducted.

Rehabilitation After Treatment

Treatment of throat cancer usually causes complications, which would result in patients having a hard time swallowing, eating or talking. 

Palliative care is suggested to these patients. This care includes various health professionals, help better the lives of the patient.

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Tags:  cancer,Throat Cancer

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