What is Throat Cancer?
Throat cancer happens when abnormal cells grow together in the throat (pharynx), voice box (larynx) or tonsils and form masses called tumors. Throat cancer is rare and typically begins in the flat cells that line the inside of the throat.
Baptist Health is known for advanced, superior care for patients with cancer and the diagnosis, treatment and management of throat cancer. You will appreciate timely appointments and a professional, friendly atmosphere where we take time to listen to your concerns. At Baptist Health, you have access to the region’s most comprehensive, multidisciplinary team of specialists and innovative therapies, including many available only through specialized clinical trials. In every way, we work to demonstrate the utmost in excellent care to those who trust us with their health.
Signs and Symptoms
Throat cancer symptoms can be mild and non-specific and may include:
- A lump or sore in the throat or neck that doesn’t heal
- Constant need to clear the throat
- Coughing (sometimes with blood)
- Difficulty swallowing
- Ear pain
- Hoarseness or other voice changes
- Sore throat
- Swollen neck lymph nodes
- Wheezing, high-pitched or abnormal breathing sounds
- Change in voice
To diagnose throat cancer, we ask questions about your medical history and do a physical exam. We then use advanced diagnostic procedures and technology to effectively diagnose, inform treatment and carefully monitor the condition. Diagnostic procedures can include:
Biopsy: The physician may take a small sample of cells from the tumor, via a needle extraction, small incision or with an endoscope and look for cancer cells under a microscope.
Endoscopy: During this test, a thin tube with a light and a lens is inserted in the mouth and into the throat to check for inflammation, suspicious growths and other problems.
Imaging tests: X-rays, computerized tomography (CT) scans, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and other tests can help the physician determine the extent of cancer spread beyond the surface of the throat or voice box.
Laryngoscopy: Similar to an endoscopy, a flexible scope goes into the nose or mouth and down the throat to provide a close view of the larynx.
Most cases of throat cancer result from a mutation in cell DNA, and researchers aren’t sure of the cause. There are a number of lifestyle factors that lead to the development of throat cancer, however. Some of these causes include:
- Excessive alcohol use
- Smoking and chewing tobacco
Risk factors that can contribute to throat cancer include:
Age: Most throat cancers develop in adults over the age of 50.
Asbestos exposure: Some people exposed to asbestos have developed throat cancer.
Gender: Throat cancer is more common in men than in women.
GERD: Gastroesophageal reflux disease can cause stomach acid to rise into the throat, causing damage.
HPV infection: Certain types of human papillomavirus, a sexually transmitted virus, can lead to the development of throat cancer.
Other cancers: Cancers that begin in other parts of the body can spread to the throat.
While many risk factors cannot be controlled, there are ways you can help prevent some types of throat cancer:
Ask about your risk: If you have a known risk of throat cancer, ask your physician about periodic endoscopies.
Don’t smoke: Smoking is a known cause of most cancers.
Get GERD under control: If you have acid reflux, ask your doctor what lifestyle changes and medications can help.
Reduce the amount of alcohol you drink: Frequent drinking may lead to some throat cancers.
The earlier that throat cancer is diagnosed, the better the outcome. Throat cancers detected early can be cured.
Treatment and Recovery
Throat cancer treatment depends upon how far the condition has progressed, a person’s overall health and his or her preferences. Treatment methods may include:
Chemotherapy uses special drugs designed to kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy can be administered as a pill or injected into the bloodstream. It may be given before surgery to shrink a tumor, after surgery to kill remaining cancer cells and as a means of reducing symptoms.
This treatment uses high-energy radiation directed specifically to the throat to kill cancer cells. Most often, radiation treatments are given five days a week for several weeks.
Some early stage tumors may be removed during an endoscopy procedure.
Surgery is meant to remove all of the throat cancer and a margin of healthy surrounding tissue. Surgery can be done to remove the tumor as well as all or part of the glands, tissue or nerves close to the tumor, the larynx or the thyroid.
These treatments use drugs or man-made antibodies to block the growth of cancer cells while leaving normal cells undamaged.
Recovery After Surgery
Recovery after a surgical procedure will depend upon the type of procedure and your overall health. Your doctor will tell you when you may be physically active again and about what activities to avoid during recuperation. Special care may be needed to regain the ability to swallow, eat solid foods or talk.
Throat cancer can spread or recur, so follow-up care after successful treatment is important. In addition, the cancer itself and some treatments can result in complications. These include:
Airway obstruction: A throat tumor can interfere with breathing.
Difficulty swallowing: The tumor or the treatment can result in difficulty swallowing.
Loss of voice: This can result when the voice box must be removed.
Stiffness or pain in the neck: This can be caused by the cancer itself or surgical treatment.
Next Steps with MyChart
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