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Everything You Need to Know About Throat Cancer

It is essential that you understand just what impacts your throat’s health and take actionable steps towards better health. This article tells you all you need to know about Throat Cancer.

  • 07 Sep 2023
  • 5 min read
  • 67 views

From speaking to singing and from breathing to swallowing-the throat plays an incredibly important role in how we engage with the world around us. Everyone, regardless of their age, gender or lifestyle, relies on the health of their throat for a range of activities. Taking good care of your throat should be near the top of everyone’s list when considering their overall wellness. Understanding the signs and symptoms of a more serious condition like throat cancer can help ensure that any issue you may have with such a delicate area gets addressed quickly and appropriately. With this in mind, it’s essential that you understand just what impacts your throat’s health and take actionable steps towards looking after it on a daily basis.

What is Throat Cancer?

Throat cancer, in everyday language, refers to cancer that begins in your throat. However, doctors and medical experts prefer to use more precise terms because the throat area can be affected by various types of cancers. When you have medical appointments, your healthcare provider will explain the exact type of cancer you're dealing with using the correct medical terms.

For instance, cancer that starts in the thyroid gland at the front of your neck is called thyroid cancer. Cancer that begins in the tube that typically carries food to your stomach is known as esophageal cancer. Similarly, cancer that originates in the windpipe, also called the trachea, is called tracheal cancer.

Types of Throat Cancer 

The following are some of the most commonly known types of neck cancer.

  • Oropharyngeal cancer: This type typically impacts the area situated just behind your mouth. Nasopharyngeal cancer: This typically emerges in the area behind your nose.
  • Laryngeal cancer: This cancer refers to tumours forming within your vocal cords. The origin of the cancer can be from different parts of your voice box.
  • Glottic cancer: If you encounter glottic cancer, it affects your vocal cords located in the middle of your larynx. Notably, more than half of all laryngeal cancer cases begin in this region.
  • Subglottic cancer: This cancer starts beneath your vocal cords, in the lower portion of your voice box. Supraglottic cancer originates in the upper part of your larynx and might typically include the epiglottis; it is the cartilage that prevents food from entering your windpipe.

 

Symptoms of Throat Cancer

Listed below are some of the most commonly known throat cancer symptoms:

  • Keep an eye out for recurring nosebleeds.
  • The tumour's presence can affect your voice, making it quieter, huskier, or resembling a perpetual cold.
  • Throat cancer can make eating and swallowing painful and difficult, leading to weight loss, a common symptom in various cancer types.
  • You might encounter pain or a burning sensation when chewing or swallowing, as the tumour interferes with these actions.

 

Causes of Throat Cancer

The following are some of the popular risk factors that can potentially become one of the throat cancer reasons.

  • If you are a man, you have a 4 to 5 times greater likelihood of developing throat cancer compared to women.
  • If you have been exposed to human papillomavirus (HPV) through sexual activity with an infected partner, you are at risk of laryngeal and hypopharyngeal cancer.
  • While those over 55 years of age face a higher risk, it's crucial to note that even younger individuals can also be affected by these types of cancer.
  • If you use tobacco products like cigarettes, cigars, pipes, chewing tobacco, or snuff, you need to be aware that these increase your risk of cancer. An astonishing 85% of cancer cases are linked to tobacco use. In addition to direct smoking, exposure to second hand smoke and smoking marijuana can further raise this risk.
  • If you have difficulty swallowing and are iron deficient, be aware that you are at a higher risk of throat cancer due to this condition.
  • If you happen to frequently consume alcohol in excessive amounts, you are significantly increasing your chances of developing cancer. Combining alcohol with tobacco usage intensifies this risk more.
  • If your occupation exposes you to harmful substances like asbestos, wood dust, paint fumes, or specific chemicals, your risk of developing cancer significantly increases.

 

Also read:

Can Throat Cancer Be Prevented?

While you can't completely prevent throat cancer, you have the power to significantly reduce your risk by avoiding risk factors such as:

  • Pay close attention to your diet. Opt for a healthy diet that typically includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, minimally processed meats, sugary drinks, and highly processed foods.
  • Practise safe sexual habits, like limiting oral sex and the number of sexual partners, to minimise your chances of HPV exposure.
  • Stop or limit your consumption of alcohol. Avoid smoking as well.

 

How is Throat Cancer Diagnosed?

The specific tests chosen depend on factors like the suspected cancer type, your neck cancer symptoms, age, general health, and previous medical results.

Your diagnostic process starts with a physical examination and lab tests. The doctor will inspect your neck, lips, gums, cheeks, nose, mouth, throat, and tongue for any anomalies such as a throat cancer lump.

A biopsy, involving microscopic examination of tissue samples, would provide a conclusive throat cancer diagnosis. The type of biopsy varies based on the cancer's location. Through the use of a laryngoscope, your larynx and hypopharynx will be directly examined. This procedure may also involve a biopsy.

When it comes to assessing the spread of cancer, imaging tests become a crucial part of the diagnosis. For example, computed tomography (CT) scans utilise X-rays from various angles, crafting a detailed 3D image that reveals irregularities or tumours.

 

What are the Different Stages of Throat Cancer?

The following are the different stages of throat and neck cancer.

The stages of early throat cancer involves the presence of abnormal cells within your throat lining that have the potential to develop into cancer.

As you advance to stage 1, the tumour measures no more than two centimetres, and the malignancy hasn't infiltrated your lymph nodes.

Progressing to stage 2, your tumour expands beyond two centimetres but remains under four centimetres in size. The cancer hasn't extended into your lymph nodes.

As you transition to stage 3, the throat cancer is more advanced. This stage involves either a tumour surpassing four centimetres in size, or the involvement of a lymph node on the same side of your neck as the tumour.

Finally, stage 4 denotes the utmost advancement of throat cancer for you. The tumour's size is variable, but will have spread to various regions, including neighbouring tissues like your neck, trachea, thyroid, oesophagus, jaw, and mouth. In the most severe cases, the cancer might have travelled to remote body parts, such as your lungs.

 

How is Throat Cancer Treated?

  • Your throat cancer treatment options are typically customised for you by several factors, including your throat or neck cancer stage, the location of cancer, the type of cells involved, the presence of HPV infection, your overall health, and your personal preferences. The following are some of the most common throat cancer treatments:
  • Chemotherapy employs drugs to eliminate cancer cells. It's often combined with radiation to enhance effectiveness. Radiation therapy employs high-energy beams like X-rays and protons to target and eliminate cancer cells. For small cancers or those not affecting lymph nodes, radiation alone may suffice.
  • Targeted drug therapy targets specific defects in cancer cells to inhibit their growth.
  • Surgical interventions will vary based on the cancer's location and stage. Minor cancers on the throat's surface or vocal cords may be treated with endoscopic procedures. This involves inserting a hollow endoscope, along with specialised tools or a laser, to remove the cancer. Larger tumours might require complete voice box removal, with techniques available for speech restoration. Smaller cancers may require you to opt for partial throat removal (laryngectomy) with reconstruction to restore swallowing.
  • Immunotherapy utilises your immune system to combat cancer by counteracting cancer cell proteins that suppress the immune response. This method is typically reserved for advanced cases that don't respond to standard treatments.
  • Post-treatment rehabilitation addresses complications, involving specialists to restore swallowing, eating, and speaking abilities.

 

Living with Throat Cancer

In your journey with throat and neck cancer, staying vigilant during post-treatment monitoring becomes very important.

  • Regular blood tests evaluate your thyroid function, while dental check-ups focus on managing radiation-related concerns. If needed, speech, hearing, and swallowing rehabilitation help address any post-treatment challenges you might encounter.
  • As you move forward, it is important to remember to stay on top of your health insurance to ensure continued coverage. Keeping a record of your medical history proves very valuable in communicating effectively with new doctors and specialists you may encounter on your recovery journey.
  • It's crucial to promptly communicate any new problems or concerns to your doctors. By doing so, you aid in the early detection of any potential issues, contributing to your overall well-being.
  • If your sense of smell is impacted, olfactory rehabilitation can help restore it. The impact of treatment on your intimacy is also a consideration that your healthcare team can assist you with.

Conclusion

Throat cancer comes in various forms and stages, each requiring personalised approaches. Detecting it early is key, which is why regular medical check-ups and staying vigilant about your health are essential. Working closely with healthcare experts and promptly addressing any health concerns are vital steps in managing cancer effectively. Always invest in good health insurance to get adequate coverage for your treatment.

This blog offers comprehensive information and discussions on various health and related topics. The information and all other materials presented on this blog, website, or any linked resources are not meant to serve as a replacement for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. It is strongly recommended that you consult your healthcare provider before initiating any new medication or health regimen.

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