Do you know that Throat cancer symptoms can vary from the early stage to later stages?
Cancer is a class of disease in which abnormal cells tend to multiply.
Moreover, they divide uncontrollably in your body and such cells form malignant growth: Tumors.
When you hear the term throat cancer, it means cancer of the gullet, windpipe, and thyroid gland.
Doctors do not use the term throat cancer, instead, refer to it as cancer of the head and neck.
Your throat is a muscular tube that begins behind your nose and ends in the neck.
Throat cancer often begins in the flat cells that line the insides of your throat.
Your voice box sits just below your throat and is also susceptible to cancer.
It is made of cartilage and contains vocal words that vibrate to make a sound when you talk.
Keep on reading to learn more about it in detail.
Types of Throat Cancer
Throat cancer is a general term that people use for cancer.
However, it can develop either in the throat, pharyngeal cancer, or in the voice box, laryngeal cancer.
Though most throat cancers involve the same type of cells, specific terms can help to differentiate the part of the throat where it develops.
Let’s discuss these types as follows:
Nasopharyngeal Cancer: begins in the nasopharynx which is that part of your throat behind your nose.
Oropharyngeal Cancer: begins in the oropharynx, which is the part of your throat right behind your moth and includes your tonsils.
Hypopharyngeal Cancer or Laryngopharyngeal Cancer: this type begins in the hypopharynx or laryngopharynx.
It is the lower part of your throat, just above the esophagus and windpipe.
Glottic Cancer: is the cancer of vocal cords.
Supraglottic Cancer: Cancer in the upper portion of the voice box and includes cancer that affects your epiglottis
Epiglottis is a piece of cartilage that blocks the foods from going into the windpipe.
Subglottic Cancer: is cancer that begins in the lower portion of the voice box, below the vocal cords.
According to the National Cancer Institute, NCI, they refer throat cancer to as:
- pharyngeal cancer
- laryngeal cancer
Moreover, it is important to note that throat cancer is relatively uncommon than other types of cancer.
According to NCI, oropharyngeal cancer accounts for about 2.8% of all cancer cases.
While 1.8% accounts for all deaths from cancer.
Generally, the chance of having a diagnosis of one of the above cancer is about 1.2%.
On the other hand, laryngeal cancer accounts for 0.7% of new cancer cases and 0.6% of deaths.
Around 0.3% of people can expect to have this type of cancer at some time.
Potential Throat Cancer Symptoms
Signs and symptoms of throat cancer that occur are:
Change in your voice, trouble swallowing or dysphagia, weight loss, sore throat, and ear pain.
Moreover, other throat cancer symptoms are:
It is important that you make an appointment with your doctor as soon as you notice throat cancer symptoms.
And they do not go away.
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Causes and Risk Factors for Thorat Cancer
After understanding throat cancer symptoms, it is important to learn about the causes and risk factors to prevent developing it.
The risk factors for throat cancer will depend on the type, however, some of the following factors can increase the risk of oropharyngeal and laryngeal cancer:
- a high body weight
- high alcohol consumption
- a diet that is low in fruits and vegetables
- exposure to asbestos, in case of laryngeal cancer
- chewing betel quid and gutka in case of oropharyngeal cancer
Moreover, begging older, as these cancers often occur after the age of 50, having Fanconi anemia or dyskeratosis congenita, an inherited genetic syndrome can increase your risk.
Additionally, having certain types of human papillomavirus, HPV, and oral hygiene habits can play a role.
People who smoke and drink a lot are 30 times more susceptible to developing oropharyngeal cancer than those who don’t.
And they are also more likely to develop laryngeal cancer, according to the American Cancer Society, ACS.
Oral HPV, however, is a sexually transmitted virus that affects about 10% of men and 3.6% of women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, CDC.
The CDC also adds that HPV accounts for 70% of cases of oropharyngeal cancer in the United States.
Furthermore, men are more likely to develop oropharyngeal or laryngeal cancer than women.
While the overall rate is higher among white people, it is also significantly high in black men with all-females and with males from other races, according to NCI.
According to a study, there is a difference in survival rate for laryngeal cancer between black and white American males increase rather than decreased between 1975 and 2002.
Also, the authors of the study suggest that socioeconomic factors, a later stage at diagnosis, and less access to appropriate treatment can be the possible reason.
Diagnosis of Thorat Cancer
After understanding the throat cancer symptoms, it is important to book an appointment with your doctor as soon as possible.
At your appointment, your doctor will ask about throat cancer symptoms, you might be experiencing, and your medical history.
Moreover, if you are experiencing symptoms like sore throat, hoarseness, and persistent cough with no improvement and no reason, they may suspect cancer is some part of your throat.
In order to check for throat cancer, your doctor will perform a direct or indirect laryngoscopy.
Or they can also refer to a specialist for the procedure.
A laryngoscopy gives your doctor a closer view of the larynx.
They can use special mirrors to see these areas or can also insert an endoscope into your throat for a clear view.
A phenocopy, on the other hand, allows your doctor to see the larynx, esophagus, mouth, nasal, cavity, and possibly your lungs at one time.
In case cancer is present in one location, it can also develop in other areas prone to the same risk factors, like smoking.
If these tests changes that could indicate cancer, your doctor may order a tissue sample or biopsy for testing.
Moreover, they will also order imaging tests.
- CT scan
- MRI scan
As these can get a correct diagnosis.
However, blood tests can not show if cancer is present in the mouth or throat but can help assess your overall health.
Furthermore, if your doctor needs more detail about your gullet, you may need to have an x-rat ofter drinking a chalky liquid: barium swallow.
This will help you show any problems with your gullet on an X-ray.
A bone scan, on the other hand, can show if cancer has spread to the bones.
Staging Throat Cancer
After diagnosing throat cancer symptoms, your doctor will then determine the stage of throat cancer.
In cases your doctor finds cancerous cells in the throat, they will order additional tests to identify the stage, or extent of your cancer.
One of the most basic ways of staging cancer in the throat involves a number system, ranging from 0 to 4:
In stage 0, the tumor is only on the top layer of the affected part of the throat.
While in stage 1, the tumor is limited to the part of your throat where it starts.
In stage 2, the tumor begins to affect the nearby areas.
Stage 3 of throat cancer is where the tumor is growing into other structures in the throat.
Or spreading to one lymph node.
Stage 4 is where the tumor has spread to the lymph nodes or distant organs.
To work out the stage, your doctor will consider tumor size T, lymph node involvement N, and if cancer cells have spread to other parts f the body, i.e. metastasis, M.
Together, these are known as the TNM system.
Moreover, the diagnosis will depend on how these factors combine.
It is important to note that cancer staging is a complex process.
If you receive a diagnosis, your doctor will consider stage, grade, and individual factors to prepare your treatment plan.
For your treatment plan, there will be a number of specialists involved in diagnosis and treatment.
This team consists of:
An oncologist, who will perform surgical procedures like the removal of tumors
A radiation oncologist, who will treat your cancer with radiation therapy.
A pathologist, who examines tissue samples from your biopsy.
An anesthesiologist, who administers anesthesia and monitors your condition during biopsy or surgery.
Moreover, the treatment options include surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy.
The treatment method your doctor will recommend often depends on the cancer stage and other factors.
Let’s discuss them as follows:
After throat cancer symptoms and diagnosis, your doctor will then move towards the treatment.
In case the tumor is small, your doctor will surgically remove it.
Moreover, they will perform this surgery in the hospital while you are under sedation.
They may recommend one of the following surgical procedures:
In this procedure, your surgeon will use an endoscope, a long thin tube that contains a camera at the end.
They will insert it in your mouth through which they can pass surgical instruments or lasers to treat early-stage cancer.
Cardectomy is the procedure that helps to remove all or part of your vocal cords.
During this procedure, your surgeon will remove all or portions of your voice box, depending on the severity of cancer.
Some people can speak after this surgery, however, others will learn to speak without a voice box.
Your surgeon will remove a part of your throat in this procedure.
If throat cancer is spreading within your neck, your doctor may remove some of your lymph nodes.
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Radiation Therapy and Chemo
After the removal of the tumor, your doctor may recommend radiation therapy.
This therapy uses high-energy rays to destroy cancer cells.
Moreover, it targets any cancerous cells the tumor has left behind.
Types of radiation therapy are:
Brachytherapy: Your doctor will place radioactive seeds directly inside the tumor or close to it.
Though this type of radiation can be for laryngeal and hypopharyngeal cancer, it rarely is.
Intensity-modulated radiotherapy and 3D-conformal radiation therapy: In both types of treatment, the radiation beams are tailored to the shape of the tumor.
Moreover, this is one of the most common ways of giving radiation for laryngeal and hypopharyngeal cancer.
On the other hand, your doctor will use chemotherapy in case of large tumors and tumors that have spread to the lymph nodes and other organs or tissues.
In such a case, they may recommend both radiation and chemotherapy.
Chemotherapy is a drug that kills and slows the growth of malignant cells.
Targeted Therapy and Immunotherapy
Targeted therapies are drugs that help to stop the spread of growth of cancer cells by interfering with specific molecules responsible for the growth of tumors.
One type of targeted therapy to treat throat cancer is cetuximab or Erbitux.
Moreover, experts are researching other types of targeted therapies.
Your doctor may recommend this therapy along with standard chemo and radiation therapy as a part of a clinical trial.
Immunotherapy, however, is a treatment that involves drugs.
These drugs enable your immune system to fight cancer and these drugs are also called checkpoint inhibitors.
Often the immune system cells or checkpoints use to turn on an immune response when the body needs it.
Cancer, however, can use these checkpoints to stop the immune system from attacking them.
Some drugs can help stop these checkpoints from working.
When this happens, the immune system can attack the cancer cells.
In the case of laryngeal cancer, two checkpoint inhibitors that can help shrink a tumor are:
- pembrolizumab (Keytruda)
- nivolumab (Opdivo)
If these drugs are suitable, your doctor may prescribe them alone or along with chemotherapy.
You will receive them intravenously, usually every 3, 4, or 6 weeks.
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Some people may need therapy after treatment to relearn how to speak with throat cancer.
A speech therapist and a physical therapist can help with this.
Additionally, some people with throat cancer experience certain complications.
- difficulty swallowing
- changes in the appearance of neck or fave
- difficult speaking
- trouble breathing
- skin hardening around the neck
Moreover, occupational therapists can help with swallowing difficulties.
If you need reconstruction surgery t help with this or any other issues, your doctor can advise you.
Learning throat cancer symptoms is one step in learning to prevent your risk factors.
While it is not always possible to prevent throat cancer, you can take certain steps to reduce your risk.
Avoid or quit smoking and using tobacco. Monitor your alcohol intake.
Moreover, consume a nutrient-rich diet that includes fresh fruits and vegetables.
Limit the intake of added fats, sugars, and highly processed foods.
Make sure to engage in regular physical activity.
Ask your doctor bout getting an HPV vaccine to help reduce the risk of contracting an oral HPV infection.
According to NCI, alcohol use and smoking together can lead to the biggest risk factor for developing oral cancers.
This makes limiting alcohol consumption and avoiding smoking two main ways of preventing head and neck cancers.
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The outlook for cancer in the throat depends on multiple factors like where it begins, the type, and individual factors like if you are a smoker who continues to smoke.
The overall 5-year survival rate for people with oropharyngeal cancer is 66.9%, according to the NCI.
Per the ACS, if you have an early diagnosis, before cancer spreads, the survival rate is 62%.
This means that you have a 62% chance of living another 5 years than someone who does not have a diagnosis.
However, for laryngeal cancer, the NCI states the 5-year survival rate is 60.7% however, the rates vary according to where cancer starts.
For instance, if you have cancer in the glottis, the area that includes the vocal cords and is not spread beyond the original site, your chance of living at least for another 5 years is around 83%, according to the ACS.
These figures are based on the statistics of people who receive a diagnosis between 2011 and 2017 and do not predict the outcome for individuals with such cancers.
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Several types of cancer can affect your throat, including oropharyngeal and laryngeal cancer. Smoking and high alcohol consumption can increase your risk, however, not everyone who develops cancer will have these risk factors.
If you have throat cancer symptoms like a hoarse voice or sore throat that does not go away, make sure to seek medical advice. Getting an early diagnosis can help to improve your outcome of these and other types of cancers.
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