Throat cancer

What is throat cancer?

Throat cancer, also known as pharyngeal cancer, is a form of cancer characterised by the presence of malignant tumour cells in the throat. There are various types of pharyngeal cancer, which include:

  • Nasopharynx cancer – when it affects the upper part of the throat behind the nose
  • Oropharynx cancer – when it is located in the middle part of the throat
  • Hypopharynx cancer – when the cancer is in the lower part of the pharynx
  • Laryngeal cancer – affects the larynx (the voice box)

There are also another two types of throat cancer:

  • Adenocarcinoma – affects the glandular cells, but this is a rare form.
  • Squamous cell carcinoma – a more common form of throat cancer which affects the cells lining the throat.

What are the symptoms of throat cancer?

The symptoms of pharyngeal cancer depend on the location and extent of the tumours, but in all cases a lump (nodule) may appear in the neck. Some common signs and symptoms can include:

  • Earache
  • Pain or difficulty when swallowing
  • A sore throat
  • Weight loss
  • A cough or feeling like you always need to clear your throat
  • Changes in the sound of your voice
  • Blood in the saliva
  • Dysphonia, also known as hoarseness

What causes throat cancer?

Pharyngeal cancer, like all types of cancer, is caused by abnormal cell mutation and its reproduction. There are certain risk factors that can increase the chances of this type of cancer developing:

Can throat cancer be prevented?

Specialists recommend quitting smoking. It is also advisable to reduce the consumption of alcohol and follow a healthy lifestyle, which consists of eating properly and doing physical exercise on a regular basis. It is also advised to reduce the risk of HPV, by having safe sex and using protection.

How is throat cancer treated?

Treatment for throat cancer varies according to the type of throat cancer present. If the tumour is located in the nasopharynx, chemotherapy and radiotherapy sessions are recommended; for tumours of the oropharynx and hypopharynx, the patient will undergo surgical intervention if the tumour is small; and finally, the lumps of the neck can be removed with surgery, which will be accompanied by chemotherapy and radiotherapy. In some cases, a portion of the voice box will have to be removed surgically in a procedure called a laryngectomy.

If diagnosed early enough, throat cancer has a good survival rate, however, if diagnosed in later stages when the cancer has likely metastasised to other parts of the body, treatment focuses on prolonging life and slowing the progression of the cancer.

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