Throat cancer is cancer that affects parts of the throat like the oropharynx and the tonsils. This disease also affects the vocal cords as well as the voice box.
It is usually divided into two groups; laryngeal cancer and pharyngeal cancer. Laryngeal cancer affects the larynx region, which is the voice box.
Pharyngeal cancer, on the other hand, affects the pharynx. The pharynx is the hollow tube extending from behind your nose to the top of the windpipe.
Pharyngeal cancers are further divided into nasopharynx cancer, which is cancer of the upper region of the throat; oropharynx cancer that affects the middle region of the throat; and hypopharynx cancer, which affects the lower region of the throat and laryngeal cancer, which affects the voice box.
Unlike most forms of cancer, throat cancer isn’t very common, with studies estimating its prevalence to be in the region of 14.33 cases every year for every 100,000 inhabitants. There is also a pretty high survival rate if throat cancer is diagnosed early.
Throat cancer is caused by the development of genetic mutations in the cells in your throat. The genetic mutations, in this case, make these cells grow abnormally and the affected cells may still live even after the death of healthy cells in your throat.
As these cells accumulate, they may develop into a tumor in your throat. Throat cancer is also linked with some variations of Human Papillomavirus infections (HPV). It has also been associated with other forms of cancer like bladder, esophageal, and lung cancer.
Often, the symptoms of throat cancer mimic symptoms of common conditions like the flu and allergies. They include:
- Persistent urge to clear your throat
- Change in voice
- Ear pains
- Hoarse voice
- Persistent coughing, which may even come with blood
- Swallowing complications which is medically known as dysphagia
- Swollen lymph nodes around your neck region
- Unintended weight loss
- Sore throat
A biopsy done by an experienced ENT specialist can give you an accurate diagnosis.
If you have throat cancer, you may feel a burning sensation or even pain when you chew or attempt to swallow food. You may also feel like the food you’re swallowing is sticking in the throat.
Depending on the intensity of your pain, you may also find it difficult to move your tongue or open your mouth. It is also worth pointing out that you may experience bouts of headache if you have throat cancer.
If you have a family member who has struggled with throat cancer, you may be worried if this condition can be passed on, as with most medical conditions.
The good news is most throat cancers are not hereditary so they do not run in families. However, if you smoke, the chances of you getting throat cancer is higher. Please note that e-cigarettes like vaping are not a safe alternative to smoking. E-cigarettes contain substances like nicotine and diacetyl, which are linked to lung disease.
It is also important to note that men have slightly higher risks of developing throat cancer than women. There are also lifestyle habits that may aggravate your risks of developing throat cancer. Here’s a quick list of throat cancer risk factors you should know about.
- Poor dental hygiene
- Excessively drinking alcohol
- Being exposed to the human papillomavirus (HPV)
- Genetic syndromes
- Poor nutrition; a diet low in fruits and vegetables
Throat cancer can be very well managed if detected early. However, if detected late when the malignant cells have spread past your head and neck, there are slim chances of throat cancer being treated. Not all hope is lost though, as there are helpful treatment methods like radiation, chemotherapy and surgery that can help slow down throat cancer progression and even better prolong your life. Dr Dennis Chua is experienced in treating throat cancer in a multidisciplinary setting.
Like most forms of cancer, the best line of defense against throat cancer is keeping your risk factors for this disease at a minimum. If you suspect that you have the disease, make a timely appointment with an ENT specialist to make managing this condition easier and increase your odds of survival.
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