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Throat Cancer- Signs and Symptoms, Causes, Types, and Diagnosis

Throat Cancer:

When malignant cells develop on your throat (pharynx), voice box also known as larynx or tonsils, it is a condition of throat cancer.The throat is a muscular tube that begins behind the nose and ends in the neck. Throat cancer most often begins in the flat cells that line the inside of your throat.

The voice box that is located just below the throat is also susceptible to throat. The voice box is made of cartilage and contains the vocal cords that vibrate to make sound when you talk.

Throat cancer can also target your epiglottis which acts as a lid for your windpipe. Another kind of throat cancer is tonsil cancer which affects the tonsils located at the back of the throat.

Symptoms of Throat Cancer:

1. Cough:

Coughing is a very common phenomenon. It could be indicative of a varied range of illnesses ranging from simple flu to asthma to major diseases like lung cancer. Coughing can also indicate throat cancer. It is however a very primitive symptom and should be identified with other symptoms together. This also means that one must not ignore cough if it persists for a very long time and brings too much trouble to your health.

2. Hoarseness/ Unclear Speech:

Throat cancer affects the voice box as we read above. The speech becomes unclear and difficult to understand. A hoarse voice is such that it would hurt the voice of the listener.

3. Difficulty  in Swallowing:

One may have a difficulty in swallowing food. The natural reason for it is that the throat serves as a passage for the food we eat. If the cancer develops on the tonsils, it will irritate that region causing pain.

4. Pain in the Ear:

The nerves of your throat and ear are connected. Naturally so, if you have throat cancer, your ear will have to also bear the brunt of the cancerous cells growing in the region.

5. Bleeding cough:

While you cough, you may also bleed and spit the blood out along with the mucus. This is a clear sign of throat cancer and must be brought to medical attention. Bleeding may happen due to consist coughing that causes trouble in the inner linings of the throat.

6. Swollen Lymph Nodes in the Neck:

Due to the swelling in lymph nodes, your throat may also swell up and a huge lump may be visible. This is due to the growth of cancerous cells. If you notice slight swelling in your throat area, do not ignore it. Consult your doctor before it is too late.

7. Weight loss:

You may not be able to swallow solid food. This is the reason you would want to avoid eating most of the times due to the pain that it causes to your throat. This results in weight loss of the patient. Even liquids become difficult to swallow because of the swelling and inflation of this area. A person begins to lose weight and becomes very weak.

8. Lump in the Throat:

Due to swelling and inflation, you may constantly feel a lump in your throat. The lump may make you feel as if something is stuck in your throat and is causing hindrances to you while you swallow spit.

Identify the symptoms and take the necessary steps on time so that you may dodge any major difficulties.

Causes of Throat Cancer:

1. Smoking:

All packets of cigarettes come with a caution. The reason for this is smoking causes a wide variety of diseases. From asthma, to lung cancer and even breathing problems like bronchitis. There have been recent studies linking agarbatti or incense smoke to throat cancer as well.

2. Excessive Alcohol Consumption:

Drinking too much alcohol will not only leave you with a really bad hangover but drinking alcohol more often and also beyond limits can result into throat cancer. It also is responsible for liver problems and may result in cancer if the liver too.

3. Exposure to asbestos:

Asbestos are very injurious for our lungs, esophagus and throat. Asbestos causes cancer of the larynx. The particles of asbestos are very harmful for our respiratory system also.

4. Genetic Factors:

The genes play a very important role in deciding if you are going to fall prey to cancer or not. Most cancers are caused due to genetic factors. If you have a history of cancer in your family, you must be extra cautious about your own health.

5. HPV infection:

HPV stands for human papillomavirus infection. It is a sexually transmitted virus. It is a potential risk factor that can lead to oropharyngeal cancers. This virus also poses a risk for Cervical Cancer.

Types of Throat Cancer:

Though most throat cancers involve the same types of cells, specific terms are used to differentiate the part of the throat where cancer originated

1. Nasopharyngeal Cancer:

This cancer develops in the part located at the back of your throat just behind your nose.

2. Oropharyngeal Cancer:

When cancer develops in the part of your throat right behind your mouth, where tonsils are located, it is oropharyngeal cancer.

3. Hypopharyngeal cancer (laryngopharyngeal cancer) :

This type of throat cancer begins in the hypopharynx (laryngopharynx) — the lower part of your throat, just above your esophagus and windpipe.

4. Glottic Cancer:

It starts and develops on the vocal cords.

5. Supraglottic cancer: 

It begins in the upper portion of the larynx and includes cancer that affects the epiglottis, which is a piece of cartilage that blocks food from going into your windpipe.

6. Subglottic cancer :

When cancerous cells begins in the lower portion of your voice box, below your vocal cords, it is subglottis cancer.

Diagnosis of Throat Cancer:

1. Examination for Symptoms of Throat Cancer:

In order to Diagnose throat cancer, your doctor will ask you about the potential symptoms of the Cancer like sore throat, hoarseness, swelling in the throat, etc.

2. Laryngoscopy:

Following which you may be recommended to perform laryngoscopy. A laryngoscopy gives your doctor a closer view of your throat.

3. Biopsy:

If laryngoscopy test reveals abnormalities, your doctor may take a tissue sample (called a biopsy) from your throat and test the sample for cancer. You may get a Conventional Biopsy, Endoscopic Biopsy or a Fine Needle Biopsy performed on your throat.

The Role of Imaging Tests:

Imaging Tests are used to determine the stage of your throat cancer. The different types of Imaging Tests are as follows:

1. Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI):

This test uses radio waves and strong magnets to create detailed pictures of the inside of your neck. An MRI looks for tumors in order to detect and determine whether cancer has spread to other parts of the body.

2. Positron Emission Tomography (PET):

A radioactive dye is injected into your blood stream. The scan creates images of areas of radioactivity in your body. This type of imaging test is used in cases of advanced cancer.

3. Computed Topography Scan (CT Scan):

This imaging test uses X-rays to create a cross-sectional picture of your body. It is helpful in finding out the size of the tumor. It helps to find out if the tumor has spread to areas like the lymph nodes or the lungs.

4. Barium Swallow:

In a barium swallow test your throat will be coated with a thick liquid that you will swallow. This test creates X-ray images of your throat and esophagus.

5. Chest X-Ray:

If your doctor suspects that the cancer has spread to your lungs, you may be asked to have a chest x-ray performed for detection.

Surgery for removal of Tumor:

If your tumor is small, it may be removed surgically. The different kinds of options available for surgery are:

1. Endoscopic Surgery

2. Cordectomy

3. Laryngectomy

4. Pharyngectomy and

5. Neck Dissection

Therapies for Throat Cancer:

1. Chemotherapy:

If the cancer has advanced and spread to different parts, your doctor may suggest you undergo chemotherapy along with radiation therapy. Chemotherapy involves using of drugs that kill the cancerous cells and prevents them from growing again.

2. Radiation Therapy:

Radiation Therapy uses high-energy rays to destroy malignant cancer cells. It targets any cancerous cells left behind by the tumor following a surgery.

3. Targeted Therapy:

Targeted Therapy uses drugs that attack specific molecules that are responsible for growth of tumor.

As long as throat cancer is concerned, the treatment does not end at surgery or the different kinds of therapies. Sometimes, the patient needs to take treatment for relearning how to speak. There are various other complications like difficulty and swallowing food and water, aching throat as well as difficulty in breathing. In order to revive from these post surgical complications, the patient needs to give time and wait until he/she heals.

Shabnam Vandeliwala

Venturing into writing is my second most admired hobby after litigating in courts. An advocate by profession, writing gives me immense sense of satisfaction especially in the time that I'm free from other work.

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