Cancer is a class of diseases wherein the cells of the body multiply and divide uncontrollably. The cells become cancerous or malignant and form tumors. In the throat, cancer can develop and can affect the lining of the throat. Throat cancer involves the vocal cords, voice box, tonsils, oropharynx and the other parts of the throat.
The pharynx is the area of the throat that is situated just behind the mouth and nasal cavity. It’s also located in the larynx and esophagus. The pharynx chamber works for both digestive and respiratory functions. It is where both food and air enters and divides into the esophagus, where food passes through, and the larynx, where air enters to the lungs.
One part of the throat is the larynx, and it can be affected by cancer, too. Laryngeal cancer affects the larynx or the voice box. It is a tube approximately two inches long, and it is situated above the trachea in the neck.
It helps protect the windpipe during swallowing, produces sound when talking or allows the air to reach the lungs. This is because it’s the part of the throat that separates the tube going to the lungs and to the stomach.
Throat cancer rates are lesser than other types of cancers. According to the National Cancer Institute, about 1.1 percent of adults will be diagnosed with pharyngeal cancer within the lifetime. Moreover, about 0.3 percent of adults will have a diagnosis of laryngeal cancer within their lifetime.
Types of Throat Cancer
There are several types of throat cancer. The two primary types are:
Adenocarcinoma – Throat cancer called adenocarcinoma are the cancer of the glandular cells.
Squamous cell carcinoma – This type of cancer involves the flat cells that line the throat. It is considered the most common type of throat cancer in the United States.
Also, throat cancer depends on the part of the throat affected. Nasopharynx cancer affects the upper part of the throat, hypopharynx cancer involves the lower part of the throat and the oropharynx, which affects the middle part of the throat.
The survival rate of throat cancer depends on the stage of cancer and the area of the tumor. About 60.7 percent of individuals with laryngeal cancer can survive for more than five years compared to 64.5 percent of people with pharyngeal cancer.
Early Signs and Symptoms
Unlike the other types of cancer, throat cancer is easy to detect because the symptoms may signal the condition right away. The early signs and symptoms of throat cancer are:
Difficulty swallowing – Difficulty of swallowing is the feeling that there is something stuck in the throat to being unable to swallow food. In some cases, the patient may experience pain or a burning sensation when swallowing food.
Hoarseness of voice – For individuals with hoarseness of voice for more than three weeks, it could be a sign of laryngeal cancer. However, there are many causes of having a hoarse voice such as screaming, shouting, smoking, post nasal drip, allergies, acid reflux, injury to the throat and thyroid problems.
Weight loss – A sudden and unexplained weight loss may signal the presence of cancer in the body, including laryngeal cancer. It may also be due to the fact that patients with laryngeal cancer have difficulty in swallowing.
Shortness of breath and a persistent cough – Some patients who have laryngeal cancer may experience shortness of breath or difficulty of breathing. Also, their breathing may have an abnormal sound (stridor), and they may have a cough that never goes away.
Breathing problems – When the throat is affected, and there is a blockage, like a tumor, it may lead to breathing problems. A person with throat cancer may find it hard to breathe.
Lump in the neck – Usually, cancer cells from a tumor or a lump in the neck area. This may lead to breathing problems and in the long run, disfigurement.
A persistent sore throat and ear pain – Since the neck and throat are affected, a sore throat is common in patients with throat cancer. Also, the ears may be affected when the tumor grows bigger. It can impede the nerves in the neck and ear area.
Swelling of the eyes, throat, neck or jaw – If the tumor grows bigger, it can impede the blood flow to the eyes, throat, jaw or neck. Also, the bigger the tumor, the more it can cause inflammation and swelling of the throat, neck, jaw, and eyes.
Detecting the signs of throat cancer earlier paves the way for faster and better recovery. Also, if the throat cancer is detected early on, it can lead to early initiation of treatments, making it the prognosis better.
Late stage throat cancer may have metastasized already to the other parts of the body. When this happens, it may lead to a poor prognosis and a more difficult treatment. Metastasis usually happens during the advanced stages of the disease.
If you are experiencing these early signs of throat cancer, you need to seek medical attention right away. This way, you can be tested for the presence of cancer.