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Everything You Need To Know About Throat Cancer

Dr. Zafar Mahmood

3 min read

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More common in men than women, throat cancer refers to the development of malignant tumors in the cells lining the throat (pharyngeal cancer), voice box (larynx) that can also form in the laryngeal glands, or tonsils. While the exact cause is unknown, specialists attribute cancer development to certain genetic mutations in the throat.

Pharyngeal Cancer:

Depending on where it originates in the pharynx, the cancer is divided into 3 types:

  • Nasopharyngeal Cancer: It begins in the nasopharynx or the part of the throat lying just behind the nose.
  • Oropharyngeal Cancer: This one originates in the part of the right behind the mouth, including the tonsils at the back of the throat.
  • Hypopharyngeal Cancer: Also known as the laryngopharynx, it begins at the lower end of the throat just above the esophagus and windpipe.

Types of Laryngeal Cancer:

Points of origin in the larynx determine the type of cancer as follows:

  • Glottic cancer begins in the vocal chords i.e. two muscular bands present in the larynx.
  • Supraglottic cancer starts in the upper portion of the larynx, including the epiglottis (a piece of cartilage that blocks food entry into the windpipe).
  • Subglottic cancer originates below the vocal cords at the lower end of the voice box

Symptoms:

While many benign conditions can also cause these symptoms, they might also be indicative of pharyngeal and laryngeal cancer:

  • A persistent cough (may cough up blood)
  • Voice changes, like hoarseness or not speaking clearly
  • Dysphagia (difficulty swallowing) and swollen lymph nodes
  • An unhealing lump or a sore throat
  • swelling of the eyes, jaw, throat, or neck
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • A constant need to clear your throat
  • Ear pain
  • Wheezing
  • Bleeding in the mouth or nose
  • Excessive reflux, diarrhea or constipation

Prevention:

While throat cancer cannot be prevented, certain lifestyle adjustments can reduce the risk:

  • Quit Smoking or Never Start, since cigarette fumes can cause the throat to dry out and expose it to various potentially cancerous chemicals.
  • Eat A Healthy Diet consisting of a colorful variety of fruits and vegetables to benefit from the various anti-cancerous vitamins and antioxidants.
  • Guard Against HPV by getting regular HPV vaccinations between 13-26 years and practicing safe sex.

Treatment:

The following treatment options are available depending upon the cancer progression and location, tumor size and overall health:

1- Radiation Therapy:

The cancer cells are targeted and killed by radiations emitted from high energy beams, which can either be administered from outside the body (External Beam Radiation) or via small radioactive seeds and wires placed inside the body near the tumor (Brachytherapy).

While sufficient for treating early-stage cancers, later-stage and highly advanced throat cancers might require a combination of radiation with chemotherapy and surgery, or to reduce visible signs and symptoms, respectively. Proton therapy is another form of radiation therapy that utilizes protons for radiation deliverance but is not a standard treatment option for most throat cancer types.

2- Surgery:

Cancer stage and location determine the implementation of a surgical procedure:

  • Early-stage Cancer Surgery: Removal of surface tumors via the insertion of an endoscope and subsequent vaporizing, cutting out, or scraping off of the tumor using a laser or special surgical tools.
  • Laryngectomy: Partial or complete voice box removal in case of smaller and larger tumors, respectively. Breathability is restored by attaching the windpipe to a hole in the throat in case of complete removal. Speech pathologists can aid in learning to speak without a voice box post-surgery.
  • Pharyngectomy: In case of smaller tumors, small pieces of the throat are removed which can later be reconstructed to facilitate food swallowing.
  • Neck Dissection: For cancers that have spread deep within the neck, some or all lymph nodes are removed to check for the presence of cancer cells.

All surgical options carry a risk of bleeding and infection.

3- Chemotherapy:

These are specialized drugs that are used to kill and slow the growth of cancerous. This treatment is often used in conjunction with radiation therapy to treat large tumors or tumors that have metastasized (spread to other parts).

4- Targeted Drug Therapy:

A form of chemotherapy, it uses specific drugs, particularly Cetuximab, to target cancerous cell growth by halting the action of a specific growth protein present in certain types of throat cancer cells. It can be used alongside chemotherapy or radiation therapy.

Post-Treatment Rehabilitation:

While all cancer diagnoses can be debilitating, throat cancers are more so, as they affect a vital and visible part of the body. Complications resulting from treatment and the condition itself include:

  • Eating and swallowing difficulties
  • Neck pain, stiffness, and hardened skin
  • Speech problems
  • Neck or face disfigurement
  • Memory problems
  • Tiredness
  • Nerve Changes

Disfigurement can be improved via reconstructive surgery, whereas physical and speech therapists can help with swallowing, and, for some patients, relearning how to speak, along with effective pain management methods. However, patients with laryngeal cancer have a 20.5 % relapse risk, making post-surgery follow-up appointments every 2 months, necessary.

While metastasized cells can only be treated, early detection of throat cancer has a high cure rate. If you experience prolonged throat symptoms, we recommend you to consult an oncologist, the best doctor for your medical condition.

Here at oladoc, we help you find and book confirmed appointment with the best Oncologist in Lahore, Karachi, and Islamabad. Moreover, you can also call our helpline at 042-3890-0939 and seek an appointment with the right doctor as per your needs.

Disclaimer: The contents of this article are intended to raise awareness about common health issues and should not be viewed as sound medical advice for your specific condition. You should always consult with a licensed medical practitioner prior to following any suggestions outlined in this article or adopting any treatment protocol based on the contents of this article.

Dr. Zafar Mahmood - Author Dr. Zafar Mehmood is a leading ENT specialist in Karachi. He has deep expertise in head and neck surgeries, thyroid treatment, ear cleaning, headache, and others. You can book appointment with him through oladoc
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