Throat cancer can be defined as the multiplication and uncontrolled proliferation of cancerous cells in the throat. The throat is an organ which originates behind the nose and ends at the neck. The cancer cells usually affect the vocal cords, voice box, tonsils, epiglottis and the oropharynx. Also Read: Oesophageal Cancer: Causes, Symptoms And Treatment
Throat cancer is often referred generally to cancer that happens in the pharynx (i.e. pharyngeal cancer) and the larynx (i.e. laryngeal cancer).
Though most of the different types of throat cancer have similar type of cells, it can usually be categorised into the various types depending upon their place of origin.
The two primary types of throat cancer depending upon the type of cells are:
Squamous cell carcinoma:
This type of throat cancer most commonly affects the flat cells lining the throat.
Although quite rare, this type of throat cancer affects the glandular cells of the throat.
Other common categories of throat cancer include:
This type of cancer begins at the part of the throat just behind the nose, i.e. the nasopharynx region. Also Read: Nasopharyngeal Cancer: Causes, Symptoms And Treatment
Hypopharyngeal Cancer (Laryngopharyngeal cancer):
Cancer that begins in the hypopharynx (i.e. laryngopharynx region), which is the lower part of the throat, just above the esophagus and windpipe.
Glottic cancer refers to the one which begins in the vocal cords.
Cancer cells usually begin in the lower portion of the voice box, just below the vocal cords.
It is the type of cancer that starts in the upper part of the larynx and often includes cancer that affects the epiglottis.
Although the exact cause of throat cancer is yet to be discovered, most researches have surfaced that throat cancer happens due to genetic mutations. These mutations cause the cells to grow and multiply uncontrollably. These abnormal cells instead of dying keep piling up to form a tumorous mass of cells in the throat.
Some causative factors that increase the risk of throat cancer include:
- Chewing tobacco
- Excessive consumption of alcohol
- Unhealthy dietary choice
- Poor oral hygiene
- Genetic factors
- Exposure to asbestos
- Sexually transmitted infection such as HPV (i.e. Human papillomavirus)
- Health conditions like GERD (i.e. Gastro-Esophageal Reflux Disease)
Although it is difficult to detect the early signs of throat cancer, the most common signs and symptoms include:
- Change in the voice
- Sore throat
- Constant need to clear the throat
- Persistent cough (often accompanied with blood)
- Difficulty in swallowing (i.e. dysphagia)
- Sudden weight loss
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Ear pain
Diagnosis And Treatment
On noticing any of the above-mentioned signs and symptoms, do consult a doctor right away to detect the type of throat cancer, so that the specific treatment can be started right away. The doctor usually does a thorough physical checkup, acknowledges the patient's past medical history, followed by a series of diagnostics including:
- Imaging techniques like X-ray, CT-scan, MRI-scan, PET-scan, and Barium swallow.
Staging Throat Cancer
In order to offer specific treatment, the doctor usually stages the cancer into the following types:
Stage 0: The tumour develops only on the top layer of cells of the affected part of the throat.
Stage 1: In this stage, the size of the tumor is less than 2 cm and it is constricted to the part of its origin.
Stage 2: The size of the tumor ranges between 2 - 4 cm and may have spread into the nearby tissues.
Stage 3: The tumor is larger than 4 cm and has metastasized into other structures in the throat or has spread to one lymph node.
Stage 4: The tumor has spread to the lymph nodes or to other distant organs.
After properly staging the throat cancer, the doctor decides the best possible way to treat the tumour to give a better life to the patient. The treatment options include:
- Radiation therapy
Surgery: This option includes Endoscopic surgery, Cordectomy, Laryngectomy, Pharyngectomy, Neck dissection.
- Targeted drug therapy
- Palliative care