Throat cancer is a term that encompasses different types of cancers that occur in various parts of the throat. Throat cancers occur when the cells found in the throat grow and reproduce uncontrollably. The cancerous cells invade healthy tissue and bind together to form tumors—abnormal malignant growths. Cancer can spread quickly to other areas of the body if untreated and uncontrolled. Here is a guide about everything you need to know about throat cancer.
Different Types of Throat Cancer
As mentioned above, there are different types of cancer that occur in and around the throat. Throat cancer is a type of head and neck cancer, and each type of throat cancer is categorized based on place of origin. For instance, pharyngeal cancer is cancer developed in the pharynx (neck and throat), while laryngeal cancer is developed in the larynx (voice box).
Types of pharyngeal cancers include:
- Nasopharyngeal cancer (occurs in the nasopharynx, the place behind the nose)
- Oropharyngeal cancer (occurs behind the mouth in the oropharynx)
- Hypopharyngeal cancer (occurs in the hypopharynx, above the esophagus in the bottom part of the throat)
Types of laryngeal cancers include:
- Supraglottic cancer (occurs above the vocal cords)
- glottic cancer (occurs in the vocal cords)
- subglottis (occurs below the vocal cords)
- Squamous cell carcinoma is a type of throat cancer that affects the cells that line the throat, and it is the most common type of throat cancer.
Throat Cancer Symptoms
Those living with a type of throat cancer may notice that they have a long-lasting sore throat, a noticeable lump in the neck that is painless, or some level of swelling in the neck. Other visible symptoms of throat cancer are white or red patches in the oral cavity.
Pharyngeal Throat Cancer
Those with pharyngeal throat cancer may also notice a change in their hearing or pain in the ear, long-lasting nasal congestion, nosebleeds, and chronic coughing. Facial pain, headaches, difficulties with breathing or swallowing, consistent lump in the back of the throat, and unexplained weight loss are also additional symptoms of pharyngeal throat cancer.
Laryngeal Throat Cancer
People with cancer that originates from the larynx may experience the same symptoms as those with pharyngeal throat cancer. In addition, they may also experience persistent hoarseness.
What are the Risk Factors of Throat Cancer?
More research needs to be performed to pinpoint the exact causes that lead to different types of throat cancers, although studies show that women are usually less likely to develop it than men. However, evidence suggests that there are certain risk factors that can increase a performs chances of developing cancer in the throat. These include:
- Consuming excessive amounts of alcohol
- High-risk HPV (human papillomavirus)
- Asbestos exposure
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
- genetic conditions
- Bad oral hygiene
- Poor nutrition
- A lack of Vitamin A
- Chewing betel nuts
Should I Get Checked Out?
The idea of cancer is scary, and many people are reluctant to reach out for help, even if they are experiencing a change in their health. If you are experiencing any symptoms listed above, it is important to speak to a healthcare provider. Although it is more likely that the cause of the symptoms is a less serious health condition, such as a throat infection, it is a good idea to see a professional to rule out cancer.
After all, if it is cancer and you detect it early, you can receive the best possible treatment to recover from the illness. Cancer experts at Moffitt Cancer Center, for instance, explain the symptoms of throat cancer to look out for and they can give you a professional diagnosis if any symptoms do turn out to be throat cancer. Should the diagnosis be cancer, you will have the best chance of beating it if you are treated by experts in the field.
Throat Cancer Diagnosis
When visiting a physician, they will ask you questions about your concerns and diagnose your condition by performing a series of tests. These tests can include an endoscopy, a laryngoscopy, and a biopsy. An endoscopy involves a long tube with a camera attached. This tube is fed down the throat to examine and capture images of the interior of the throat.
A laryngoscopy involves a long tube with a magnifying lens attached. This tube is guided down the throat so that the vocal cords can be examined. After these tests, the physician can perform a biopsy. This is where a sample of abnormal tissue is taken and analyzed, during the endoscopy or laryngoscopy, under a microscope. If cancer is detected, your physician may order imaging tests, which can include a CT, MRI, or PET scan, to find out where the cancer is and how far it has spread.
Stages of Throat Cancer
There is a numbered system to stage cancers, and each different stage gives you an indication of the extent of your cancer. At stage 0, the tumor is only found in the top layer of the cells; at stage 1, the cancer is located in the place of origin only, while at stage 2, the tumor has spread to a nearby area.
Stage 3 is where the tumor has spread to a lymph node or has developed further in the throat, and stage 4 is where it has spread to more than one lymph node or to distant organs. The cancer treatment your physician provides will depend on individual factors and the stage of cancer.
Throat Cancer Treatment
Those who have been diagnosed with cancer may be able to receive treatment to eradicate the cancer cells. The type of treatment a patient receives is dependent on where the cancer cells originate, the stage of the cancer, and the patient’s health. Cancer treatment can include different types of radiation therapy, such as brachytherapy and 3D conformal radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and surgery. During an endoscopy in the early stages of throat cancer, cancerous tissues can usually be surgically removed. However, in other instances, more surgery is required to completely rid the cancerous cells.
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