What you need to know about throat cancer

There are certain habits that place you at a higher risk for developing throat cancer.

  • Do you smoke?
  • Do you use tobacco products?
  • Do you drink excessive amounts of alcohol?
  • Do you drink alcohol and smoke?

Keep in mind that throat cancer is not a common cancer, but it still has a devastating effect on a person’s life, especially if the cancer causes damage to the larynx, or voice box.

Throat Cancer

Who is at risk for throat cancer?

Throat cancers frequently develop after the age 50. Men are much more likely to develop throat cancer than women. Smoking and drinking put you at greater risk of throat cancer vs. drinking or smoking individually.

HPV (genital human papillomavirus) can also place someone at risk for throat cancer.  There are over 40 types of HPV that can infect the mouth and throat.  This is called “oral HPV.” HPV can cause cancers at the base of the tongue, the tonsils and the back of throat.
There is no simple screening test for throat cancer. So early detection is very important to increase survival rates.

Potential symptoms of throat cancer:

  • Lumps or swelling in the neck
  • Neck or ear pain
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Coughing up blood
  • A consistent cough
  • High-pitched breathing sounds
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Chronic hoarseness that does not improve within two weeks

Do you have symptoms of throat cancer?

Speak with your doctor. An otolaryngologist or ENT physician- is a doctor who specializes in treating diseases that affect the ear, nose and throat. Our ENT doctors can provide a head, throat and neck exam to find out if there is any indication of cancer. They may take a sample for a biopsy. The tissue is examined to determine if there are signs of cancer.

Your ENT physician may perform a laryngoscopy during your exam. The doctor will either use flexible fiber-optic tube to see the area or mirrors to view the area.

The Names of Throat Cancer

The names of the throat cancer vary depending on where the cancer originated from and what parts of the throat are affected.

  • The oropharynx which is the back of the mouth and throat
  • The hypopharynx is located where the larynx (voice box) and esophagus meet.
  • The nasopharynx is the upper part of the throat behind the nose.
  • The larynx (laryngeal cancer) is the area that forms an air passage to the lungs and holds the vocal cords.

Laryngeal Cancer Statistics

Every year over 3,500 people die from laryngeal cancer. According to the American Cancer Society over 50% of laryngeal cancers start in the area containing the vocal cords (glottis) and 35% develop above the vocal cords (supraglottic). The good news is that laryngeal cancer is falling by about 3% every year because fewer people are smoking.

When you think of throat cancer, most people would picture a growth or mass. But that is only one possible sign of throat cancer. Severe, chronic hoarseness can also be a strong indicator.

According to the National Cancer Institute an estimated 30,000 Americans are diagnosed with some type of head, neck or throat cancer.

Throat cancer can mimic signs and symptoms of other common ailments, such as allergies, colds, and sinus infections. That is why is it so important to utilize the expertise of an experienced ENT Doctor to get an accurate diagnosis and determine if you need a biopsy.

What Causes Throat Cancer?

Extensive use of alcohol, cigarettes, chewing tobacco and snuff are responsible for 75% of all head, neck, and throat cancers. When using both tobacco and alcohol you are at much higher risk than who only use tobacco or alcohol.

What Are the Risk Factors for Throat Cancer

  • Tobacco Use including smoking and chewing tobacco
  • Excessive amounts of alcohol
  • HPV
  • Not eating enough fruits and vegetables
  • Having GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease)

5 Signs of Throat Cancer

  1. You have a neck mass. Neck masses might not be cancer, they could also be caused by a tooth infection, strep throat, or a goiter. Schedule a visit with our Colorado ENT Physicians so they can pinpoint the cause and prescribe appropriate treatment.
  2. Changes in your voice such as hoarseness or the inability to speak clearly. There are several potential reasons for hoarseness, and most of them are not cancerous. But if you experience chronic voice problems, you should schedule an appointment immediately.
  3. Difficulty swallowing. Do you have a feeling that food is stuck in your throat? The difficulty swallowing is called Dysphagia. This gradually gets worse until it dramatically affects eating, limiting your ability to eat solid foods.  It is important to let us know if you have pain when you swallow.
  4. A sore throat. There are many conditions that cause a sore throat that are not throat cancer. But if you have a persistent sore throat that doesn’t go away, you should schedule an appointment with us.
  5. Unexplained weight loss. If you lose weight without any changes to diet or exercise, especially if you lose more than ten pounds it could be a sign of cancer.

Many of these symptoms are caused by conditions that aren’t cancerous, like a common cold or a sinus infection.

Because these signs can be caused by several different reasons, it’s always important to seek treatment with an ENT who can help determine the exact cause of your throat issue.

Where Does Throat Cancer Develop?

According to the Mayo Clinic, throat cancer usually starts in the flat cells on the inside of your throat. 

Who Should be Screened for Throat Cancer?

According to the American Cancer Society, there are no simple screening tests for these cancers because they are hard to diagnose without complex procedures.

How to Treat Throat Cancer?

If it is in its early stages, throat cancer can be treated with radiation therapy. But more advanced cases may require radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and or surgery.

If you have any of the symptoms listed above, please schedule an appointment with us today so we can determine the underlying cause and provide a treatment plan.

For more information or to schedule an appointment, contact us.

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