Throat Cancer: Symptoms, Complications, and Treatment

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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
  • wheezing
  • hoarseness
  • swollen lymph nodes
  • pain in the ear

Diagnosis

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
  • Disfigurement

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.

Would you like to consult a doctor for Throat Cancer ?

Questions answered by trusted doctors

Verified User
My mom is 60 yes old and had been a 2 pk a day smoker for at least 40 yrs. She has had a sore throat, trouble swallowing and ear pain for months and didn’t tell anyone. Her ultrasound showed enlarged lymph nodes. We have a follow up scheduled and the doctor asked that I be there to discuss further work up. I know that there is a serious potential for pharyngeal/esophageal cancer but what else could it be? I don’t want to scare the family if it could be something else! She doesn’t have tonsils
Dr. D.Shiva Prasad
Radiation Oncologist, Hyderabad
Well enlarged lymph nodes certainly calls for evaluation. It could be anything from simple pharyngitis to malignancy.
It is almost impossible to narrow down without having examined . Wonder if you can share the reports.
Dr. Shubham Jain
Surgical Oncologist, Delhi
Agreed, it could potentially be disease... Please consult with reports for further advise
Dr. Bhavin Visariya
Radiation Oncologist, Mumbai
Get her examined by good doctor..

If suspicious is high, she will require Biopsy from node..
Good local examination may also give information about primary site of disease

Dr. Mukul Roy
Radiation Oncologist, Mumbai
Hi...she needs to be evaulted properly..by clinical examination and necessary imaging and biopsy probably.
Good luck.
Dr. Ameya Bihani
Surgical Oncologist, Indore
there are few things suggestive of cancer...long history of smoking..enlarged nodes  and pain radiating  to Ear .. .get an FNAC  of the node and get clinical examination of base of tongue  ,larynx and hypopharynx by an ENT surgeon or surgical oncologist and get an MRI done of base of tongue is involved otherwise  CT Scan of neck
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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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Home Remedies

Relieve throat pain

Eating soft foods that are easier to swallow should be preferred by the patient. Choosing smoothies and milkshakes over solid dry snacking options is the helps relieving throat pain.

Maintaining the health

Avoid eating fried food as they can cause inflammation. Instead opt for green leafy boiled vegetable. Not only they provide necessary nutrients but also have anti- cancer properties. Adding tomatoes to your diet can help remove free radicals from the body. One should always pick fresh foods over packaged options.

Loss of appetite

Various therapies and treatments can often result in loss of appetite, leading to weight loss. To deal with nauseous feeling, drink plenty of fluids like lemonade, ginger ale and green tea. Opting for high-calorie foods like ice creams, cream-based desserts and avocados.