Diagnoses and Treatments

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Throat Cancer

Throat Cancer

Throat cancer is the general term for cancer that affects one or more parts of your throat. Usually, people who have throat cancer have cancer in their larynx (voice box) or their oropharynx (the middle part of their throat.) Healthcare providers typically use surgery to treat throat cancer.

What is throat cancer? Throat cancer is the general term for cancer that affects one or more parts of your throat. Usually, people who have throat cancer have cancer in their larynx (voice box) or their oropharynx (the middle part of their throat.) Healthcare providers typically use surgery to treat throat cancer. The specific surgery depends on the type of throat cancer, location and whether it has spread.

Is throat cancer common? There are several types of throat cancer. The two most common throat cancer types are laryngeal cancer and oropharyngeal cancer. Laryngeal cancer affects your larynx (voice box). Oropharyngeal cancer affects the middle part of your throat. In 2022, about 54,000 people were expected to be diagnosed with oropharyngeal cancer and about 12,000 people were expected to be diagnosed with laryngeal cancer. (For comparison, about 290,560 women and men were expected to be diagnosed with breast cancer.) Here is more information about these two common throat cancer types: • Laryngeal cancer: This is cancer in your voice box. This cancer affects more men than women. It typically affects people aged 55 and older. Laryngeal cancer can start in different parts of your larynx. Overall, between 46% and 72% of people diagnosed with some form of laryngeal cancer are alive five years after diagnosis. • Oropharyngeal cancer: This cancer affects the part of your throat that’s right behind your mouth. Twice as many men as women develop oropharyngeal cancer. It typically affects people aged 63 and older. About 50% of people diagnosed with oropharyngeal cancer are alive five years after diagnosis.

What are other throat cancer types?

Hypopharyngeal cancer: This cancer affects the part of your throat that’s just above your esophagus and windpipe.


Nasopharyngeal cancer: This is a rare type of throat cancer. It affects the part of your throat that’s just behind your nose.


Supraglottic cancer: This cancer starts in the upper part of your larynx. It can affect your epiglottis, the cartilage that keeps food from going into your windpipe. About 35% of all laryngeal cancers start in your supraglottis.


Glottic cancer: This is cancer in your vocal cords. Your vocal cords are in the middle part of your larynx. More than half of all laryngeal cancers start here.


Subglottic cancer: This cancer starts below your vocal cords in the lower part of your voice box. About 5% of all laryngeal cancers start here.

 


What are throat cancer symptoms?


Throat cancer includes several types of cancer that can affect different parts of your throat in different ways. Some common throat cancer symptoms include:


A sore throat that lasts for more than two weeks.


Pain or difficulty swallowing food (dysphagia).


Changes in your voice, like hoarseness, that last more than two weeks.


Lumps in the back of your throat or mouth.


Lumps in your neck, including the back of your neck.


Ear pain that lasts more than two weeks.


Having these symptoms doesn’t mean you have throat cancer. Many times, these symptoms are signs of other less serious conditions. If you have a symptom that lasts two weeks or more, talk to your healthcare provider so they can find out what’s causing it.


How would I know if I had throat cancer?


Your healthcare provider is your best source of information about throat cancer. That’s because many throat cancer symptoms are similar to other less serious conditions. That said, hoarseness that doesn’t go away within two weeks may be an early symptom of laryngeal cancer. Other common throat cancer symptoms are sore throat or trouble swallowing food that lasts two weeks or more.


What is the main cause of throat cancer?


Throat cancer happens when something triggers changes in the genetic makeup of cells in your throat. This change turns healthy throat cells into cancerous cells that grow and multiply. Researchers are investigating what triggers this change. But they’ve linked throat cancer to some activities and medical conditions that increase your risk of developing some form of throat cancer:


You smoke or use tobacco products (including chewing tobacco and snuff) now or you used to smoke tobacco or use tobacco products. Using tobacco is the single largest risk factor for developing head and neck cancer, including throat cancer.


You drink more than a moderate amount of alcohol. Researchers link laryngeal and pharyngeal cancer to frequent and heavy consumption of alcohol.


You have a specific type of sexually transmitted disease called human papillomavirus (HPV).

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