Cancers that develop in the throat (the pharynx), the voice box (the larynx) and the tonsils are types of throat cancer. Any cancerous tumors that form in or around those areas, including in the sinuses and mouth, are put in the general category of head and neck cancers. Accounting for approximately 3 percent of cancers in the United States, head and neck cancers develop almost twice as often in men as they do in women. The cause of throat cancer is unknown, but risk factors have been identified. Certain lifestyle changes, such as avoiding alcohol and tobacco, reduce a person's risk of developing the disease.
Types of Throat Cancer
There are five main types of head and neck cancer, and each is named by the part of the body in which it originates. Other types of cancer, including esophageal cancer and thyroid cancer, are also found in the throat area, but their diagnosis and treatment are very different from those of throat cancer.
Laryngeal and Hypopharyngeal Cancer
The larynx is found at the top of the windpipe (trachea). The hypopharynx (gullet) is the lower part of the throat surrounding the larynx.
Nasal Cavity and Paranasal Sinus Cancer
The nasal cavity, in which air passes through on the way to the throat, lies just behind the nose. The paranasal sinuses are the air-filled areas surrounding the nasal cavity. » Learn More
The nasopharynx is the air passageway in the upper part of the throat, behind the nose. » Learn More
Oral and Oropharyngeal Cancer
The oral cavity includes the mouth and tongue, and the oropharynx includes the middle of the throat from the tonsils to the tip of the larynx.
Salivary Gland Cancer
The salivary gland produces saliva, which is the fluid released into the mouth to keep it moist; it also contains enzymes for breaking down food.
Most throat cancers form in the thin, flat squamous cells that line the various parts of the head and neck.
Risk Factors for Throat Cancer
Smoking, chewing or inhaling tobacco and drinking excessive amounts of alcohol create the greatest risk for developing throat cancer, with 75 percent of head and neck cancers linked to their combined use. Other risk factors include the following:
- Infection with human papillomavirus (HPV)
- A diet lacking in fruits and vegetables
- Poor dental hygiene
Genetics may also play a part in throat cancer. Those who have a family history of throat cancer should be on the lookout for its early warning signs. The earlier treatment begins, the greater the chance of a successful outcome.
Symptoms of Throat Cancer
Throat cancer can be asymptomatic, or have the following signs or symptoms:
- Lump or sore that does not heal
- Ear pain
- Voice changes, such as hoarseness
- Difficulty swallowing
- Pain when swallowing
- Sore throat
- Weight loss
It should be noted that many other conditions have these same symptoms.
Diagnosis of Throat Cancer
To diagnose throat cancer, a physician takes the patient's medical history and performs a thorough physical exam. Based upon the information gathered, additional lab and imaging tests may be recommended, and include the following:
- CT scan
- MRI scan
- PET scan
- Bone scan
- Blood tests
A biopsy removes a small piece of tissue to be checked, under a microscope, for cancer cells. A biopsy is the only definitive way to rule cancer in or out.
Treatment of Throat Cancer
Many head and neck cancers are curable, particularly if they are found early. The treatment chosen depends on the location and stage of the cancer, the type of cells that are affected, and the patient's overall health. Types of throat cancer treatments include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy and targeted drug therapy. Types of surgery may include the following:
- Laryngectomy (removes all or part of the voice box)
- Pharyngectomy (removes all or part of the throat)
- Neck dissection (removes cancerous lymph nodes)
Those who have undergone treatment for throat cancer may have difficulty eating, swallowing or talking, and may need additional treatment from specialists for help with those problems.
- Laryngeal (Voice Box) Cancer
- Laryngeal Cancer
- Mouth Sores
- Salivary Glands
- Sore Throats
- Swallowing Disorders