Throat Cancer is cancer of the vocal cords, voice box, or other areas of the throat. It forms in tissues of the pharynx, the hollow tube inside the neck that starts behind the nose and ends at the top of the windpipe and esophagus. It may also include the nasopharynx or the upper part of the throat behind the nose, the oropharynx or the middle part of the pharynx, the hypopharynx or the bottom part of the pharynx and larynx or voice box.
The main causes of such cancer are smoking, chewing tobacco and chewing betel quid. Excessive alcohol intake or both smoking and drinking alcohol also increases the risk. Sexual transmission of certain virus like human papillomavirus can also be a cause. Most cancers of the throat develop in adults older than the age of 50 years. Men are 10 times more likely than women to develop throat cancer.
Throat cancer usually begins with symptoms that seem harmless, like an enlarged lymph node on the outside of the neck, a sore throat or a hoarse sounding voice. However these conditions may persist and become chronic. Common Symptoms of such type of throat cancer are –
- Abnormal or high-pitched breathing sounds
- Hoarseness that does not get better in 1 – 2 weeks
- Palpable Lump or swelling in the neck and facial muscles
- Difficulty in swallowing
- Recurrent Cough
- Coughing up blood
- Neck pain
- Pain in the ear
- Sore throat that does not get better in 1 – 2 weeks, even with antibiotics
- Swelling or lumps in the neck
- Unintentional weight loss
- Facial Palsy
The symptoms may vary in patients according to the size of the tumor and the degree of metastasis
Throat cancer can be cured in most patients if detected early. If the cancer has spread to surrounding tissues or lymph nodes in the neck, 50 – 60% of patients can be cured. However, if the cancer has spread to other parts of the body besides the head and neck, it is not curable and treatment is aimed at prolonging and improving quality of life.
In case of early stages, the goal of treatment is to completely remove the cancer and prevent it from spreading to other parts of the body. When the tumor is small, either surgery or radiation therapy alone can be used to remove the tumor. If the tumor is larger or has spread to lymph nodes in the neck, a combination of radiation and chemotherapy is often used to preserve the voice box. Some patients need surgery to remove the tumor, including all or part of the vocal cords rendering the patient mute for life.
After treatment, patients generally need therapy to help with speech and swallowing to help them adjust to the changes in the structure of the throat. A small percentage of patients may not be able to swallow and will need to be fed through a feeding tube.
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