Throat Cancer: Symptoms, Signs, Causes & Prognosis
The term "throat cancer" describes the growth of malignant tumours in the throat's tissues, also referred to as the pharynx. A tube-like structure called the pharynx extends from below the nose to the top of the trachea and esophagus. Throat cancer can occur in several areas within the pharynx, including the nasopharynx (upper part), oropharynx (middle part), and hypopharynx (lower part).
Squamous cell carcinoma, which develops in the flat, thin cells lining the neck, is the most prevalent type of throat cancer.
Throat cancer occurs when certain factors induce changes in the genetic constitution of cells in throat. The corresponding change transforms healthy throat cells into cancerous ones that develop and multiply. The two most widespread types of throat cancer are oropharyngeal cancer and laryngeal cancer. Other types of throat cancer are hypopharyngeal cancer, nasopharyngeal cancer, supraglottic cancer, glottic cancer, and subglottic cancer. If you encounter throat cancer symptoms that persist for two weeks or more, you must consult a throat cancer doctor for accurate diagnosis. Usually, throat cancer doctor determine the most appropriate tests after examining your condition. The prevalent tests include physical examination, laryngoscopy, pharyngoscopy, CT scan, MRI scan, PET scan, and endoscopic biopsy.
Risk factors for developing throat cancer include:
- Tobacco and Alcohol Use: Tobacco use (including smoking cigarettes, cigars, and pipes) is a significant risk factor for throat cancer. Additionally, heavy alcohol consumption, especially in combination with tobacco use, increases the risk even more. Both substances can irritate and damage the cells lining the throat, making them more susceptible to cancerous changes.
- Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Infection: Oropharyngeal carcinoma, a type of throat cancer impacting the tonsils and base of the tongue, has a heightened association with specific strains of the sexually transmitted infection HPV. This form of throat cancer linked to HPV is more prevalent among younger individuals and has distinct risk factors and causes of throat cancer compared to throat cancer unrelated to HPV.
- Diet: A diet that is deficient in fruits and vegetables, which are brimming with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, may raise the risk of throat cancer. Inadequate nourishment can reduce the immune system's ability to stop the formation of abnormal cells.
- Poor Oral Hygiene: Chronic irritation and inflammation of the oral and throat tissues due to poor oral hygiene practices might increase the risk of throat cancer.
- Environmental Exposures: Exposure to particular environmental factors, such as asbestos, chemicals, and radiation, could elevate the likelihood of developing throat cancer.
- Gender and Age: Throat cancer is more common in men than in women, and the risk rises.
- Genetics and Family History: A family history of throat cancer or other head and neck cancers might indicate a genetic predisposition to these diseases.
- Occupational Exposures: Some jobs or occupations that involve exposure to certain chemicals, dust, or fumes may increase the risk of throat cancer. If your body is subjected to intense occupational exposure and you discover any sign of throat cancer then you must promptly visit the best cancer hospital in India.
- Acid Reflux (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease, GERD): Chronic acid reflux, known as GERD, can lead to irritation & inflammation of the lining of the esophagus, thereby elevating the likelihood of cancer development in the lower section of the throat.
The symptoms of throat cancer can differ based on where the cancer is located and how advanced it is. It's essential to acknowledge that these symptoms could also stem from different medical conditions. Therefore, if you're experiencing any of these symptoms, seeking guidance from a healthcare provider is advisable to receive an accurate diagnosis.
Here are some common symptoms of throat cancer:
- Persistent Sore Throat: A sore throat that doesn't improve with time or treatment could be a sign of throat cancer.
- Hoarseness or Voice Changes: Changes in your voice, such as hoarseness or a raspy quality, that persist for more than a few weeks could be a symptom that needs proper throat cancer treatment.
- Difficulty Swallowing: Also known as dysphagia, this can involve feeling like there's something stuck in your throat or experiencing pain or discomfort when swallowing.
- Unexplained Weight Loss: Significantly unexplained weight loss without diet or physical activity changes can indicate various underlying health issues, including throat cancer.
- Swelling or Lumps in the Neck: The presence of enlarged lymph nodes or lumps in the neck region could suggest the potential spread of cancer to adjacent lymph nodes.
- Chronic Cough: A persistent cough that doesn't go away and is not due to a cold or other respiratory condition could be a symptom of throat cancer.
- Pain or Earache: Throat pain that radiates to the ear or an unexplained earache might be a symptom of advanced throat cancer.
- Changes in Breathing: If the cancer affects the airway, you might experience breathing difficulties or noisy breathing.
- Bad Breath: Foul-smelling breath that doesn't improve with oral hygiene might be related to an underlying throat issue. Ignoring this kind of condition can be quite risky for your health. Hence, approaching a throat cancer specialist near me is recommended.
- White Patches or Lesions: White or red patches or sores in the mouth or throat that don't heal could be signs of cancerous growth.
The treatment options for throat cancer depend on various factors, including the type and stage of cancer, the location of the tumour, the patient's overall health, and their preferences. A multidisciplinary approach involving oncologists, surgeons, radiation therapists, etc. is often used to determine the best treatment plan.
Here are some standard treatment options for throat cancer:
- Surgery: Surgical tumour removal is a standard treatment option for throat cancer, especially in the early stages. The extent of surgery depends on the location and size of the tumour. Different types of surgical procedures include:
- Transoral Resection: Remove the tumour through the mouth, often using endoscopic techniques. This approach is less invasive and is commonly used for smaller tumours in the oropharynx.
- Laryngectomy: Removal of the larynx (voice box) is necessary in cases where the tumour is located in the larynx. This can significantly affect speech and breathing and may require additional reconstructive surgery. If your breathing and speech are severely affected, you can approach the best hospital for throat cancer in India for accurate treatment.
- Partial Pharyngectomy: Removal of a portion of the pharynx where the tumour is located. This procedure may involve reconstruction to preserve swallowing function.
- Total Pharyngectomy: When it becomes necessary to remove the entire pharynx, reconstructive surgery is required to create an alternate pathway for the movement of food and liquids from the mouth to the esophagus.
- Radiation Therapy: Radiation therapy employs high-energy beams to focus on and eliminate cancer cells. It can be used as the primary treatment for small tumours or in combination with surgery or chemotherapy for more advanced cases. External beam and internal radiation (brachytherapy) are standard methods for treating throat cancer.
- Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy involves using drugs to kill or inhibit the growth of cancer cells. It's often used in combination with other treatments, such as surgery and radiation therapy. Chemotherapy may be given before or after throat cancer surgery to shrink tumours or to target cancer cells that have spread.
- Targeted Therapy: Targeted therapies are drugs that specifically target specific molecules or proteins involved in the growth and spread of cancer cells. These therapies are often used in cases where specific genetic mutations or biomarkers are present.
- Immunotherapy: Immunotherapy boosts the body's immune system to fight cancer cells. Checkpoint inhibitors belong to the category of immunotherapy, which obstructs proteins aiding cancer cells in evading the immune system. Immunotherapy can be used alone or in combination with other treatments.
- Combination Therapies: Optimal outcomes in numerous instances of throat cancer often necessitate a blend of treatment methods. This can entail a sequence of surgery succeeded by radiation or chemotherapy, or a blend of radiation and chemotherapy in the absence of surgery.
- Palliative Care: When cancer reaches an advanced stage with limited chances of cure, palliative care becomes central to symptom management, enhancing quality of life, and offering support to both the patient and their close ones. Although it is not a common treatment for throat cancer, you can go for Palliative Care if your throat cancer has reached an advanced stage.
It's important to note that not all individuals will respond to treatment in the same way. Some patients may experience complete remission, where the cancer disappears entirely, while others may achieve partial or stabilization of the disease. In some cases, the cancer may continue to progress despite treatment.
After determining that you are diagnosed with throat cancer, you may suffer from various emotions including sadness, disbelief, confusion, and loss of control. You may neglect the signs like difficulty swallowing and vocal changes. However, they are the early indicators of throat cancer. If you find a lump on the neck or difficulty breathing then your condition is acute and needs immediate treatment. Commonly, the treatment of throat cancer encompasses surgery that can impact your quality of life post the treatment. Make sure to discuss with the best throat cancer doctor in India regarding what to expect post the treatment and things to do to have quick recovery.