In cancer, there is an abnormal multiplication of cells that divide unmanageably. The cells combine and form tumors. Cancer of the major parts of the throat such as the vocal cords, voice box tonsils and oropharynx refers to throat cancer. It is often categorized into two types i.e. pharyngeal cancer and laryngeal cancer. A pharyngeal cancer takes place in the pharynx whereas in the laryngeal cancer, the voice box or the larynx gets affected. However throat cancer is not that common but is more likely to occur in men as compared to women. People aged more than 50 years are more prone to this form of cancer. Detecting throat cancer in the initial phase could be problematic. However some signs of the cancer are as follows:
- Gradual but significant change in the voice
- Difficulty in chewing and swallowing
- Sore throat and severe cough with blood at times
- Swollen lymph nodes in the throat
- Loss of appetite and weight loss
- Hoarseness and wheezing
- Pain in the ears
- Swollen eyes, jaw and throat
- Nasal bleeding and bleeding in the mouth
- Lumps on the lips, mouth or throat that are painless
- Patches of white and red color on the gums or tongue
- Swelling in the mouth and jaw
It is to be noted that some symptoms of throat cancer are specific to certain areas of the body. For example changes in the voice or larynx could be a sign of laryngeal cancer, but signs of the pharyngeal cancer are hard to detect.
Some causes of throat cancer include:
- Excessive smoking of cigarettes, marijuana and consumption of tobacco products
- Excessive consumption of alcohol
- Deficiency of certain vitamins and minerals such as vitamin A
- Exposure to asbestos and other chemicals
- Lack of proper dental hygiene
- Throat cancer is also related to other infections such as HPV or human papillomavirus infections which is a sexually transmitted virus which makes a person prone to cervical as well as throat cancer.
- It is also linked to other kinds of cancers such as bladder cancer, lung cancer, or esophageal cancer due to similarity in risk factors of these cancers and also because they spread to the other parts of the body.
Stages of throat cancer
The stage of cancer is determined by cancerous cells in the throat which will further help examine the complexity of the cancer.
- In the stage 0 the tumor has not reached the tissue beyond the throat
- Stage 1: tumor is as small as 7 cm and till the throat
- Stage 2: tumor enlarges a bit more than 7 cm but is still till the throat
- Stage 3: tumor grows and spreads to other surrounding areas
- Stage 4: tumor spreads to lymph nodes and other organs
Doctors conduct several tests to detect throat cancer such as a CT scan or MRI that gives a better examination of the chest, neck as well as the head. The doctor also asks about the symptoms and medical history. To confirm the cancer a laryngoscopy is usually performed as it gives a closer look into the throat. Local anesthesia is given after which a long tube is inserted down the throat along with a mirror to examine the condition of the throat. If the laryngoscopy reveals any abnormalities then a tissue sample of the throat would be taken from your throat (biopsy) and test the sample for cancer.
If diagnosed on time the cancer can get cured at a rate of 90 percent. If it spreads to the lymph nodes the cure rate falls down by 30 to 0 percent. According to the The National Cancer Institute, every year on an average there are 3,650 deaths because of laryngeal cancer and 2,330 deaths because of pharyngeal cancer in 2012 . However if the cancer spreads beyond the neck and the head it might not be cured but it doesn’t mean that the person dies immediately. The patients can still continue with their treatment to enhance the quality of their life. But some patients might need therapies even after the treatment in order to do things such as swallowing, chewing and speaking as they experience more complications in their cancer such as difficulty in swallowing, damage to the neck or face, hardening of the skin around the neck and difficulty in breathing.
Treatments depend on the causes and complications as well as symptoms and include therapies, surgeries, radiation therapy and chemotherapy.