Throat Cancer

Throat cancer (pharynx and larynx cancer)

What is throat cancer?

Cancer of the throat usually originates from cells which cover the mucous membrane lining the throat. As the tumour grows, it penetrates the mucous membrane and the muscle layers to surrounding tissues. The lymph nodes, neck, lungs and other organs can gradually become affected.

Generally cancer of the throat occurs in three distinct regions: the oropharynx, the nasopharynx and the hypopharynx. However, because these cancers have so many common features, they can be discussed together. Throat cancer is three times more common in males than in females and generally does not occur before the age of 50.

What causes throat cancer?

What are the symptoms of throat cancer?

Initially throat cancer shows no symptoms. When symptoms do occur, they usually include:

  • Difficulty and pain when swallowing.
  • Hoarseness and a persistent sore throat.
  • Traces of blood in the sputum.
  • Swollen lymph nodes in the neck.
  • Pain in the upper neck and jaw.
  • Ear pain, with partial hearing loss if region affected is behind the nose.
  • Sense of something sticking in the throat.

How is throat cancer treated?

Treatment of throat cancer is rather risky and complex. Factors considered by a doctor are the location of the cancer and the stage of development, as well as the impact treatment may have on your speech.

If the cancer is detected at an early stage it can be cured through radiation and surgery. However, if it is not caught early enough extensive surgery is required and the larynx and pharynx may have to be removed. If the larynx is removed, you will have to relearn how to speak. Removal of the pharynx necessitates surgical insertion of a tube to enable the passage of food. However, in half of all cases, remission is obtained.

When should I call my doctor?

Call your doctor if:

  • Chest colds last longer than two weeks.
  • You encounter unexplained hoarseness.
  • Your voice becomes coarse.
  • Swollen lymph nodes appear in your neck.
  • You notice blood in the saliva and have nasal secretions.

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