When Should You Suspect Throat Cancer? 5 Throat Cancer Symptoms
Is it possible to have throat cancer and not even be aware of it?
Many throat cancer symptoms mimic common conditions, such as allergies, colds, and sinus infections.
Every year, an estimated 30,000 Americans are diagnosed with some type of head, neck, or throat cancer, according to information from the National Cancer Institute.
Throat cancer is most treatable when it’s discovered early. To achieve an accurate diagnosis, you need the expertise of one of our experienced ENT physicians in Raleigh who can determine whether or not you need a biopsy.
We’ll take a more in-depth look at throat cancer, its causes, and the 5 throat cancer symptoms you should be aware of.
5 Throat Cancer Symptoms
1. A Neck Mass
If you have a mass in your neck, don’t panic. Not all neck masses are cancer. They can also be caused by strep throat, tooth infections, and goiters. Our Raleigh ear, nose, and throat doctors will be able to pinpoint the exact cause and prescribe appropriate treatment.
2. Changes In Your Voice
These changes may be chronic hoarseness or the inability to speak clearly. There are several potential causes of hoarseness, and most of them are not cancerous. However, if you have had chronic problems with your voice—particularly if in connection with other symptoms— it’s important to schedule an appointment for a complete evaluation.
3. Difficulty Swallowing
You may have a feeling that food is stuck in your throat, even when it’s not. Dysphagia is the medical term for difficulty swallowing.
In general, this symptom gradually gets worse until it dramatically affects your diet, limiting your ability to eat solid foods. You should always let us know if you’re having pain when you swallow.
4. A Persistent Sore Throat
A sore throat is a very common condition, and the vast majority are not caused by throat cancer.
However, if you’ve had a persistent sore throat that doesn’t go away despite treatment, you should schedule an appointment with us, particularly if it’s accompanied by the symptoms listed above.
5. Unexplained Weight Loss
If you are losing weight without any changes to diet or exercise–particularly if you lose ten pounds or more–it could be a sign of cancer.
As we mentioned earlier, many of these symptoms are caused by conditions that are not throat cancer. However, if you’re having many of these symptoms together, it’s important to seek treatment with one of our Raleigh ENTs who can help determine the exact cause of your problems.
What Causes Throat Cancer?
Habitual use of alcohol and tobacco—including chewing tobacco and snuff—are responsible for 75 percent of all head, neck, and throat cancers. Those who use both tobacco and alcohol are at higher risk than those who use only tobacco or alcohol, according to information from the National Cancer Institute.
What Are The Risk Factors For Throat Cancer?
While smoking may be the most obvious risk factor, others should be considered. These include:
- Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol
- Not eating enough fruits and vegetables
- Having GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease)
- Being exposed to HPV (the human papillomavirus)
Remember that vaping is not a safe alternative to smoking. E-cigarettes have substances like nicotine and diacetyl, which are linked to lung disease. Ideally, you should avoid both electronic and tobacco cigarettes.
Most throat cancers develop in those over age 50, and men are ten times more likely to develop cancer than women. The combination of smoking and drinking places someone at greater risk of cancer than drinking or smoking alone.
HPV and Throat Cancer
HPV, a common type of sexually transmitted disease, can also place someone at risk for throat cancer. While some types of HPV are not harmful, the Centers for Disease Control states that there are more than 40 types of HPV that can infect the mouth and throat.
This is called “oral HPV.” HPV can cause cancers at the base of the tongue, the tonsils, and the back of the throat. Studies show that oral HPV is three times more common in men than women. More research is needed to understand how oral HPV is transmitted.
Where Does Throat Cancer Develop?
Throat cancer usually starts in the flat cells on the inside of your throat.
But tumors aren’t limited to those areas. In addition, tumors can be found on your tonsils, your larynx (voice box), and your epiglottis, which is the cartilage that closes your windpipe when you swallow.
Throat cancer may have different names, depending upon where the cancer originated and what parts of the throat are affected.
Throat cancer may affect:
- The oropharynx (the part of the throat at the back of the mouth)
- The hypopharynx (the part of the throat where the larynx—voice box—and esophagus meet)
- The nasopharynx (the upper part of the throat behind the nose.)
- The larynx (laryngeal cancer)
According to the American Cancer Society, more than half of laryngeal cancers start in the area containing the vocal cords (glottis). Around 35 percent develop above the vocal cords (supraglottic). Each year, 3,640 people die from laryngeal cancer.
Thankfully, new cases of laryngeal cancer are falling by about 3 percent each year because fewer people are smoking.
Who Should Have a Throat Cancer Screening?
There are no simple screening tests for throat cancers because they are hard to diagnose without complex procedures. We don’t recommend routine throat cancer screening unless you have symptoms of the disease.
If we believe you need a throat screening, we will use a special, thin, lighted endoscope with a tiny camera to examine the area. We may perform a laryngoscopy to examine your vocal cords.
If there are suspicious areas such as a neck mass, we may remove a part of it for testing.
How is Throat Cancer Treated?
In its early stages, radiation therapy alone can treat throat cancer. However, more advanced cases require radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and even surgery.
Raleigh Capitol Ear, Nose, and Throat has a Team of Experienced, Board-certified Physicians Ready to Help You
We understand the value of compassionate, individualized care. Our practice has convenient locations to help you and your children receive the world-class care you deserve.
If you have any of the symptoms listed above, please schedule an appointment with us today so we can determine the underlying cause and provide a treatment plan.