Nearly 1.5 percent of adults will be diagnosed with throat cancer. Throat cancer is one of the rarest forms of cancer. It either generates from the larynx or the pharynx resulting in laryngeal cancer or pharyngeal cancer. The throat houses many different structures. Not only can throat cancer affect the pharynx and larynx but it can also spread to the esophagus, tonsils, and vocal cords. Like all cancers, throat cancer develops from abnormal cells that grow uncontrollably forming malignant tumors. Throat cancer is serious but if diagnosed early, can be treated.
The throat is a muscular passageway that leads from the back of the mouth to the neck. Throat cancer is a general term for cancer that originates in the throat area. A throat cancer diagnosis does not signify that every part of the throat has been affected. If it is not diagnosed early, it can spread quickly to nearby structures. Throat cancer is divided into pharyngeal or laryngeal cancer. Pharyngeal cancer originates in the pharynx (what many consider the throat). Laryngeal cancer originates in the larynx or what we call the voice box.
Throat cancer can originate in five different parts of the throat. Nasopharyngeal cancer originates in the back of the throat behind the nose. This area is called the nasopharynx. Oropharyngeal cancer originates lower in the throat right behind the mouth. Oropharyngeal cancer can also affect the tonsils because they are located in the back of the throat as well. Laryngopharyngeal cancer affects the lower part of the throat right above the esophagus. Vocal cord cancer is known as glottic cancer. Glottic cancer is divided into two types: supraglottic cancer and subglottic cancer. Supraglottic cancer begins in the upper part of the larynx and affects epiglottis. Subglottic cancer originates below the vocal cords, more so in the windpipe.
The majority of the throat is made of cartilage. That cartilage also forms the epiglottis and larynx. With the structures of the throat being in such close proximity, the cells can invade quickly. The throat has many different functions. The epiglottis is necessary for covering the larynx, so food does not get into your lungs. Tonsils are a part of the immune system and help to catch infections coming into the body. The vocal cords are housed in the larynx. Vocal cords are responsible for creating your voice. The larynx also leads down to the windpipe and the lungs. The esophagus is necessary for getting food to your stomach. Cancer in any of these areas creates different types of symptoms.
Throat Cancer Symptoms
With so many structures having the possibility of being affected by throat cancer, the symptoms can vary.
One symptom is hoarseness. Any change in the pitch of your voice or even the inability to speak can be the result of a tumor preventing air from properly vibrating the vocal cords. An ongoing cough is another symptom. A cough can be a result a cold or anything irritating your windpipe. A cough that persists without any reasonable cause may be a sign of a tumor irritating the throat area. Swallowing is related to throat function. The sudden onset of dysphagia (swallowing difficulty) may also be a sign of something more serious.
A sore throat is a common issue. It may not be something you typically consider serious. A sore throat that does not heal can be serious. The Adam’s apple is a structure found in men that protrudes from the throat. As a woman, you should not have anything protruding from your throat. If you are a man and feel a mass that is not your Adam’s apple, it could be a tumor. Some tumors are unable to be seen or felt based on their size and location. The tumors that arise on the side of the neck or maybe in the back of the throat are easier to see and feel. A doctor should examine any abnormal growth that you observe immediately. Some other symptoms may include weight loss, ear pain, or wheezing.
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Risk Factors for Throat Cancer
Treating Throat Cancer
Treatment for throat cancer typically begins with radiation therapy. Radiation is used to decrease the size of the tumor and in some cases eradicates cancer altogether. Surgery is a common treatment method for throat cancer, especially early cancer. Surgery is not only used to remove the tumor, but it may be necessary for the removal of other structures affected by cancer. Some structures that may be removed include the voice box and parts of the pharynx. A surgeon may even decide to remove the lymph nodes in the neck. Chemotherapy treatment may be started after surgery or along with the radiation therapy. A new therapy includes drug therapy that targets the proteins that are prevalent in the cells of throat cancer.
Throat cancer is a rare form of cancer but very serious. It can affect your speech and ability to swallow. If you are experiencing any symptoms of throat cancer, be sure to see a doctor. Any abnormal growths or masses that you feel in your throat needs to be examined. A doctor will more than likely do a biopsy to confirm a diagnosis. It is best to take preventative measures now. Drink only in moderation and if you are a smoker, try your best to quit. A healthy diet always helps the body fight off infection. Don’t believe throat cancer is the end of life. Life does go on after throat cancer. With rehab and therapy, you will be able to live a normal life again.