The Signs, Symptoms, and Treatments for Throat Cancer
Throat cancer is a relatively uncommon cancer, especially in comparison to other types of cancer. Just 12,370 people are diagnosed with throat cancer each year.1 However, this doesn’t make throat cancer any less dangerous. It can cause tumors in your throat, voice box, or tonsils, causing lasting consequences. You can learn more about throat cancer by searching online.
Throat cancer can come in a number of different forms and affect different areas of your throat. From your windpipe to your vocal cords, throat cancer can seriously alter your life. And if you search online, you can learn how to spot its signs and symptoms.
Are You At Risk of Developing Throat Cancer?
It’s important to understand just how great your risk for throat cancer might be. And there are a number of factors and lifestyle choices that can make you more likely to develop throat cancer.
Your risk for throat cancer can be higher if you:
- Use tobacco products, including smoking and chewing varieties.
- Drink alcohol excessively.
- Don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables.
- Are diagnosed with gastroesophageal reflux disease.
- Have had HPV.2
While throat cancer can’t be prevented, there are ways you can lower your risk. If you fit into any of the high-risk factor categories above, you can make changes to your behavior or your lifestyle to potentially lessen your risk. For example, you can:
- Stop using tobacco products.
- Limit your alcohol consumption.
- Eat a healthy diet filled with fruits and vegetables.
- Get the HPV vaccine if you’re eligible.
Types of Throat Cancer
Throat cancer can appear in many ways. There are different types of this cancer, and there are also different categories. Doctors categorize causes of throat cancer based on the unique growth, location, and spread of cancerous cells.
There are two primary types of throat cancer:
- Squamous Cell Carcinoma: Cancer that’s present in the flat cells that line the throat. This is the most common type.
- Adenocarcinoma: Cancer that affects the glandular cells. It’s a very rare type of throat cancer.
From there, throat cancer is typically placed in one of the following categories:
- Pharyngeal Cancer: Cancer that develops in the pharynx, or the tube that connects your nose to your windpipe. There are multiple types of pharyngeal cancer, including nasopharynx, oropharynx, and hypopharynx.
- Laryngeal Cancer: Cancer that develops in the voice box.3
Understanding which specific type of throat cancer you have helps doctors devise a treatment plan. This can be critical in achieving success with different types of treatments.
Throat Cancer Signs and Symptoms
Throat cancer can develop inside your body with no visible signs. In its earliest stages, throat cancer typically shows no symptoms⁵.
As throat cancer grows and progresses, it can begin to affect your health in noticeable ways. In later stages, you might experience subtle signs and symptoms like:
- A sore throat.
- Voice changes, including hoarseness or difficulty speaking clearly.
- Painful or difficult swallowing.
- Ear pain.
- Unexplained weight loss.
- A lump or sore that doesn’t go away.
If you notice any of these potential symptoms, it’s important to see a doctor. Any new changes to your health should be concerning. While most throat cancer symptoms aren’t specific to cancer, your doctor can run tests to determine what’s causing your health issues.
How Throat Cancer is Treated
There are a number of ways throat cancer can be treated. If you’re diagnosed with throat cancer, you’ll be given a treatment plan that details how your case of cancer will be treated. Together, doctors and specialists like oncologists, pathologists, and even your primary care physician will devise this treatment plan.
The following are some of the most common ways throat cancer is treated.
Surgery is a great treatment option for small tumors. Doctors may be able to surgically remove the entire tumor. If your cancer has spread, surgery can also remove additional cancerous areas like tissue.
For throat cancer, surgery can be used to remove cancer in its early stages or even once it’s progressed. Some surgeries may remove all or part of the vocal cords, while other surgeries might remove lymph nodes or part of the throat.
Radiation therapy is often used after surgery to remove the tumor. This treatment employs high-energy rays to destroy cancerous cells. It can reach areas that surgery cannot.
Radiation therapy can also be a complement to other types of treatment, like chemotherapy.
Chemotherapy is typically used to treat large tumors and tumors that have spread throughout the body to lymph nodes, organs, and tissue. This treatment uses a drug that kills cancerous cells and slows their growth. It can be used in combination with other treatments, including surgery and radiation therapy.
Targeted therapy uses drugs to slow and stop the spread of cancerous cells. These drugs are able to interfere with specific molecules that can cause tumors to grow. Targeted therapy can be an alternative to chemotherapy or as a complement to chemotherapy and radiation therapy, and there are several medications that may be used.
Remember that every case of throat cancer is different and may require different treatments. The treatment options and methods recommended by your doctors will depend on factors like the stage and location of your cancer. Doctors may also try a series of different treatments to get results.
If you want to learn more about throat cancer, you can search online. You can learn the signs and symptoms to look for so you know when to visit a doctor.