In this article, we will take a look at:
- What is throat cancer?
- How does throat cancer occur?
- Who is prone to throat cancer?
- Symptoms of throat cancer
- Diagnosis of throat cancer
- Complications of a throat cancer
- Treatment for throat cancer
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What is throat cancer?
Throat cancer is a type of cancer. This is a disease where abnormal cells multiply rapidly and uncontrollably. This growth of abnormal cells is known as a tumor. When this abnormal growth of cells originates in the throat, it is called throat cancer.
Throat cancer can affect the voice box, tonsils, oropharynx, and vocal cords. There are two categories of throat cancer. Laryngeal cancer refers to cancer that originates in the voice box. Pharyngeal cancer is cancer that develops in the hollow tube running from the nose to the windpipe. This can be further classified as nasopharynx cancer – cancer that develops in the upper part of the throat, oropharynx cancer – cancer that develops in the middle part of the throat and hypopharynx cancer – cancer that develops in the bottom part of the throat.
There are two primary types of throat cancer - Squamous cell carcinoma and Adenocarcinoma.
Squamous cell carcinoma This is a more common type of throat cancer and affects the flat cells lining the inside of the throat.
Adenocarcinoma This is a rarer form of throat cancer. It affects the glandular cells.
How does throat cancer occur?
Throat cancer usually results from a genetic mutation. Such mutations make abnormal cells multiply uncontrollably. These cells do not have the same lifecycle as normal cells and hence live longer than normal cells. As they keep multiplying, they form a tumor.
Like other forms of cancer, throat cancer goes through five stages as it develops.
Stage 0: In this stage, the tumor is very small and affects only the top layer of cells.
Stage I: The tumour is limited to one part of the throat and is less than 2cm in size.
Stage II: The tumour grows to 2-4cm and may spread to a nearby part of the throat.
Stage III: The tumour spreads to other structures within the throat and may be larger than 4cm in size.
Stage IV: The tumour spread to the lymph nodes and other organs.
Throat cancer does not typically spread from one person to another. However, exposure to certain kinds of human papillomavirus infections (HPV) that are spread through sexually transmitted viruses has been associated with some types of throat cancer.
Who is prone to throat cancer?
You could be at risk of developing throat cancer if:
- you smoke
- you drink alcohol excessively
- you are exposed to asbestos
- you have poor dental hygiene
- you do not get adequate nutrition
- someone in your family has throat cancer
Men have a higher risk of throat cancer as compared to women.
What are the symptoms of throat cancer? How is throat cancer diagnosed?
The symptoms of throat cancer include:
- change in voice
- trouble swallowing
- sore throat
- unexplained weight loss
- persistent cough
- coughing up blood
- constant urge to clear one’s throat
- swollen lymph nodes
- pain in the ear
If the doctor suspects throat cancer, he may perform a direct or an indirect laryngoscopy to confirm his diagnosis. He will also take a tissue sample from your throat to conduct a biopsy. This may be done endoscopically, by collecting tissue samples with a fine needle directly injected into the tumour or while you are under general anaesthesia. Other tests that may be conducted include an MRI, CT scan, PET scan and chest X-ray.
What are the complications of a throat cancer?
If diagnosed early enough, throat cancer can be treated. However, in its later stages, it can be fatal. Treatment cannot cure the disease once it has spread to other organs but its progression may be slowed down. Some of the other complications it may cause include:
- Difficulty eating and swallowing
- Inability to speak
- Difficulty breathing
What is the treatment for throat cancer?
Treatment for throat cancer depends on the stage it is diagnosed at. If a tumor is small, surgery may be advised to remove it from the body. If a tumor is large but the doctors think that they can still remove it, surgery may be preceded by radiation to reduce shrink a tumor. Radiation and chemotherapy may also be given after the surgery to kill any remaining cancerous cells. Throat cancer may also be treated with targeted therapy.
Questions answered by trusted doctors
Did you know?
Throat Cancer in India
Laryngeal cancer accounts for nearly 5% of all cancer cases in India
Prevention of Throat Cancer
HPV vaccinations can help prevent throat cancer
Treatment of Throat Cancer
Affordable prosthetic voice boxes can give throat cancer patients back their voice after their voice box is removed.
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