Your throat is 5 inches long and includes both your pharynx, or throat, and larynx, voice box. Approximately 24,000 people each year are diagnosed with throat cancer. Throat cancer is more likely to occur in males than in females, but women should still be aware of the symptoms and risk factors for the disease. Limiting your risk factors and seeking appropriate medical help if you notice any symptoms can increase the likelihood of recovery.
Throat cancer occurs due to genetic mutations within the cells of your throat. This leads to increased cell growth. These cells can continue to abnormally grow and accumulate in your throat, developing into a tumor. Research hasn't been able to identify why the genetic mutations occur, but are aware of certain risk factors associated with the disease.
There are several risk factors that can increase your chances of developing throat cancer. Tobacco use, excessive alcohol use and poor dental hygiene can all put you at risk for throat cancer. If you were exposed to asbestos or have a diet that lacks fruits and vegetables you are also at an increased risk. HPV, human papillomavirus, is a sexually transmitted virus that can put you at an increased chance to develop throat cancer. For women, HPV is also a risk factor in cervical cancer so precautions to reduce the risk of HPV are especially important.
The signs of throat cancer can include several symptoms. You may notice an increase in coughing, changes or hoarseness in your voice and difficulty swallowing. You may also be experiencing ear pain, sore throat and a lump or sore that doesn't heal. Due to the discomfort of swallowing and eating you may notice weight loss as well.
Your doctor will use an endoscope to look at your throat. They will be checking for any abnormalities that are visible in your throat. At this time, if they see anything troubling, they will be able to remove a sample for biopsy. Your doctor might also recommend imaging tests such as an MRI or CT scan to evaluate the extent of the cancer and whether it has spread to other areas of your body. Once throat cancer has been diagnosed it will be evaluated and staged. Staging is a way of classifying the severity of the cancer. Stages are numbered 1 to 4, with 1 being localized throat cancer and 4 being the most advanced stage of cancer.
Treatment will depend on the stage of your throat cancer. Treatment options should be discussed carefully with your doctor. They can include radiation, which throat cancer is particularly sensitive to, and chemotherapy. Treatment may also include surgery. The type of surgery performed would depend on the location and severity of your throat cancer. During treatment you should quit smoking and drinking alcohol. The effectiveness of your treatment depends on this because both habits will decrease the effectiveness of the treatments for throat cancer.