Your guide to understanding throat cancer better

“Cancer” is a term that refers to a body condition wherein the cells in a region grow at an unnatural pace, often leading to malignant outgrowths known as tumors. Throat cancer refers to a type of cancer pertaining to a region in the throat of an individual.

Types of throat cancer

Depending upon the site of occurrence, throat cancer can be of various types, namely: –

Pharyngeal Cancer –

This type of cancer develops in the pharynx, which is the hollow tube running from behind the nose to the top of the windpipe. Pharyngeal cancer can further have sub-types, including –

  • Nasopharynx cancer: It is cancer occurring in the upper part of the pharynx.
  • Oropharynx cancer: It is cancer occurring in the middle part of the pharynx.
  • Hypopharynx cancer: It is cancer occurring in the lower part of the pharynx.

Laryngeal Cancer –

The larynx is the voice box within the throat and cancer occurring in the voice box is described as laryngeal cancer.

Signs and symptoms

Throat cancer symptoms can be wide-ranging and tend to get worse with the development of the ailment. Initial signs and symptoms of throat cancer are so common that they are either mistaken for flu or a cough or go undetected until cancer has reached a later stage.

Some of the symptoms of throat cancer to look out for include: –

  • A persistent cough (may cough up blood)
  • Hoarseness or change in your voice
  • Dysphagia or difficulty swallowing
  • Inexplicable weight loss
  • A sore throat
  • A constant need to clear your throat
  • Swollen lymph nodes in the neck
  • Wheezing
  • Ear pain

The magnitude of throat cancer symptoms seems to vary from individual to individual with variations in age, stage, and type of cancer. Persistence (for 2 weeks or more) of symptoms such as a sore throat or coughing should be reason enough to seek professional medical diagnosis and care.

Causes of throat cancer

Although the definitive causes of throat cancer are not yet clear, doctors have rounded off various risk factors that may boost the development of throat cancer in humans. Chief among these risk factors are –

  • Excessive smoking or alcoholism
  • Prolonged exposure to asbestos
  • Poor nutrition
  • Poor dental hygiene
  • HPV

Diagnosis

The diagnosis of throat cancer begins with an examination of a person’s medical history. Generally, a laryngoscopy test is used to get a clear view of the individual’s throat. In case the doctor detects any abnormalities, they may go ahead and order a biopsy. Biopsies for a throat cancer diagnosis can be of 3 types –

  • Conventional Biopsy – A small incision is made on the individual’s throat to retrieve a small sample for testing, as a part of this test.
  • Fine Needle Aspiration – In this biopsy, the doctor inserts a small needle into the tumor to get a sample.
  • Endoscopic Biopsy – This biopsy involves the use of an endoscope for retrieving a tissue sample.

Treatment

Thanks to the progress of medical sciences and the advancement of technology, various treatment options are available today to cure throat cancer. Based on the condition of the patient, doctors may use one of the following treatment methods –

  • Surgery – Surgical removal is suggested to patients commonly in case of a small-sized tumor. The surgery is performed after the administration of anesthesia to the patient.
  • Radiation Therapy –Radiation therapy involves the use of high energy rays for the destruction of malignant cancer-causing cells. This step mostly follows the surgery.
  • Chemotherapy – This step is undertaken in case of large tumors or cancers that have spread to other regions. It mainly works towards slowing down the growth of cancer cells or killing them. This step is often used in addition to radiation therapy.
  • Targeted Therapy – Undertaken alongside radiation therapy and chemotherapy, it disrupts the molecules that cause the growth of cancer cells.

Awareness is vital for the successful prevention or treatment of chronic ailments, such as throat cancer. So, the earliest you act, the better it will be for your well-being.

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