Jennifer Hellwig, MS, RD
Throat cancer is a disease in which cancer cells grow in an abnormal way in the throat.
Cancer occurs when cells in the body divide without control or order. Eventually these uncontrolled cells form a growth or tumor. The term cancer refers to malignant growths. These growths can invade nearby tissues including the lymph nodes. Cancer that has invaded the lymph nodes can then spread to other parts of the body.
It is not clear exactly what causes these problems in the cells, but is probably a combination of genetics and environment.
Throat cancer is more common in men, and in people aged 40 years and older. Other factors that may increase your chance of throat cancer include:
Throat cancer may cause:
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. The doctor may feel for any lumps in your neck. You may be referred to an otolaryngologist, a doctor who specializes in head and neck surgery.
Tests may include:
Imaging tests to evaluate your throat and surrounding structures may include:
The physical exam, combined with all of your test results, will help to determine the type and stage of cancer you have. Staging is used to guide your treatment plan. Like other cancers, throat cancer is staged from I-IV. Stage I is a very localized cancer, while stage IV indicates a spread to other parts of the body.
Cancer treatment varies depending on the stage and type of cancer. A combination of therapies may be more effective. For example, surgery may be used in conjunction with chemo- or radiation therapy.
Treatment options for throat cancer include:
Surgery removes the cancerous tumor and nearby tissue, and possibly nearby lymph nodes. In very rare cases, surgery to remove large tumors of the throat may also require removal of tissue for swallowing. As a result, food may enter the windpipe and reach the lungs, which might cause
aspiration pneumonia. In this case, your doctor may do a tracheotomy. The windpipe will be attached to the skin through a hole in the neck, which is used for breathing.
This is the use of radiation to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. Radiation may be:
This is the use of drugs to kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy may be given in many forms including pill, injection, and/or via a catheter. The drugs enter the bloodstream and travel through the body killing mostly cancer cells, but also some healthy cells.
To help reduce your chance of throat cancer:
American Cancer Society
BC Cancer Agency
Canadian Cancer Society
Forastiere AA. Head and neck cancer: overview of recent developments and future directions.
Semin Oncol. 2000 Aug;27(4 Suppl 8):1-4.
Forastiere AA, Trotti A. Radiotherapy and concurrent chemotherapy: a strategy that improves locoregional control and survival in oropharyngeal cancer.
J Natl Cancer Inst. 1999 91(24):2065-2066.
General information about oropharyngeal cancer. National Cancer Institute website. Available at:
http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/treatment/oropharyngeal/patient. Updated July 3, 2014. Accessed September 30, 2014.
Oral cavity and oropharyngeal cancers. American Cancer Society website. Available at:
http://www.cancer.org/acs/groups/cid/documents/webcontent/003128-pdf.pdf. Accessed September 30, 2014.
Last reviewed August 2014 by Igor Puzanov, MD; Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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