October 1, 2022

Do you know that there are over 200 types of cancer that are suffered by humans all around the world? Coming across the word “cancer” itself already sends chills to the spine as it is usually associated with dangerous health complications and even death. A person living with cancer is surely a strong person as to live with one meaning to accept the pain that comes along with it. It is indeed an unfortunate disease. In this DoctorOnCall article we will be learning more about throat cancer.

Throat cancer is a general term referring to cancer affecting the throat itself (pharynx) or the voice box (larynx). While a laryngeal cancer definitely means it affected the voice box, pharyngeal cancer affects much more than just the throat. Pharyngeal cancer includes the upper part of the throat behind the nose (nasopharynx), middle part of the throat (pharynx) and bottom part of the throat (hypopharynx). Hence, when a person is diagnosed with throat cancer, it can refer to all of these parts of the throat or voice box.

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), in 2021 alone, 0.7% of cancer cases are throat cancers and it accounts for 0.6% of all cancer deaths. Throat cancers are likely to occur in people aged 55 and above, typically in their 60s. Men are likely to get diagnosed with throat cancers by three-time folds compared to women. Reasons being is men are likely to use tobacco and/or alcohol which is the risk factor of a throat cancer. This is especially true when a man is a heavy smoker and/or heavy alcohol consumer. Although tobacco smokers pose a risk for throat cancer, this does not cover the possibility of those smoking marijuana. Some occupations also may lead a person to become more susceptible to developing throat cancer due to long exposure towards industrial material such as dust, asbestos and sulfuric acid mist.

Just like with other cancer diseases, recognizing signs and symptoms can greatly help a person to get immediate medical attention and reduce complications or mortality. Sadly, most patients throat cancer often get diagnosed too late by already acquiring advanced stage which concomitantly leads to severe complications and even death. Hence, what is the 1st sign of throat cancer? Surprisingly, it can be as simple as changes of the voice. The voice changes to hoarse that typically does not improve after a few weeks. This can be an early sign of throat cancer. A person may also realise a painless lump or swelling of the neck but usually in the early stage of throat cancer, the appearance is not prominent and often overlooked. Other symptoms accompanied include swallowing difficulty, persistent cough or sore throat that does not improve and earache. Sudden unexplained or unintentional weight loss and breathing difficulty should be a warning sign that the throat cancer is getting worse.

Since signs and symptoms of throat cancer resemble a typical sore throat, it can be difficult to decide when to actually meet a healthcare professional or to just let it heal by itself. One thing for sure, a person should seek medical advice if the hoarse voice occurs more than 2-3 weeks. By getting diagnosed with an early stage of throat cancer, prompt treatment can be done and less hospitalisation is needed. In the old days, major surgery might be the only way to treat throat cancers but fortunately with modern medicine, minor surgery using endoscopy, radiotherapy or chemotherapy are much favourable especially in the early stage. For the advanced stage, combination therapy is offered to help eradicate the cancerous cells. A good treatment outcome is more promising for those with early-stage throat cancer.

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