What Is Throat Cancer?
Most throat cancer cases are as a result of smoking. Throat cancer is a type of cancer that occurs in the pharynx (throat), larynx (voice box) or tonsils due to the growth of malignant (cancerous) tumors which mostly start in the inner lining of the throat.
Throat cancer can also affect the epiglottis which is the cartilage that acts a lid for the windpipe. The throat is a muscular tube that begins behind the nose and ends in the neck.
Types of Throat Cancer
The different types of throat cancers arise from the fact that the cells affected are different. The specific terms used to refer to cancers of the throat are:
- Oropharyngeal cancer: This is cancer begins in the oropharynx which is the part of the throat right behind the mouth including the tonsils.
- Nasopharyngeal cancer: It begins in the nasopharynx which is the part of the throat just behind the nose.
- Hypopharyngeal cancer or laryngopharyngeal cancer: Begins in the hypopharynx or the laryngopharynx which is the lower part of the throat just above the oesophagus and windpipe.
- Supraglottic cancer: Cancer that starts in the upper part of the larynx and cancer that begins in the epiglottis.
- Glottic cancer: Starts in the vocal cords.
- Subglottic cancer: Starts in the lower part of the voice box below the vocal cords.
Symptoms of Throat Cancer
A person who has throat cancer can experience the following symptoms:
- Change in voice; hoarseness or cracking
- Having trouble breathing or swallowing
- Coughing that does not go away
- Having a sore throat that is persistent
- Feeling pain in the ear
- Having a lump in the neck
- Unintentional weight loss
Causes of Throat Cancer
The growth of malignant (cancerous cells) in the throat is what is termed as having throat cancer. The cause of this cells is mainly caused by:
- Smoking and excessive alcohol intake: Having smoked for a long time increases the risk of getting throat cancer. Taking alcohol excessively; more that two drinks a day, also puts you at a higher risk of developing this cancer.
- HPV: The human papilloma virus is another major cause of throat cancer, including cancer of the tongue and tonsils.
Risk Factors for Throat Cancer
- Poor nutrition which is low in fruits and vegetables
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) which is a condition that causes stomach contents to return into the oesophagus
- Exposure to chemicals such as asbestos can also increase throat cancer risk
- People at the age of 65 years and above are also at a higher risk for throat cancer
- Men are at a higher risk of developing this type of cancer than women
- Having a close family member who has had throat cancer put you at a higher risk of developing the same cancer due to gene inheritance
- Poor dental hygiene also increases throat cancer risk
Diagnosis of Gall Bladder and Bile Duct Cancer
The diagnosis of throat cancer begins with the initial doctor’s consultation during which the doctor finds out your medical history and does a physical exam using an endoscope to look at the throat closely.
The endoscope transmits images on a screen and the doctor is able to determine whether there are any abnormalities in the throat. The doctor can also use a laryngoscope to examine the voice cords.
Other tests that can be done are:
- Imaging tests: These are done to give pictures of the inside in the throat using CT (computerised tomography), MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) or PET (positron emission tomography) scans which assist the doctor in determining the extent of the cancer.
- Biopsy: This is a procedure done to get a sample of tissue from the throat which is then examined under a microscope to determine whether there are cancer cells present in the throat.
- Surgery: This is done to remove cancer or tumours depending on the stage the cancer is in. The different surgeries for Throat cancer are as follows:
1. Early stage throat cancer can be treated through:
a. Laser Surgery to remove the tumour using high- intensity laser which vaporize and cut it out.
b. Lympadectomy which involves removal of lymph nodes near the throat that have cancer cells.
2. When the cancer has spread to other parts, the type of surgery depends on which part the cancer has spread to. These surgeries include the following:
a. Cordectomy which involves the removal of part or all the vocal cords and vocal cord stripping which refers to the removal of the outer layer of tissue on the vocal cords.
b. Laryngectomy is the removal of part of the larynx where the cancer is present (partial laryngectomy) or the entire larynx (total laryngectomy).
c. Pharyngectomy is the removal of part or the entire throat.
3. Reconstructive Surgery: This involves the procedures done to restore the structure and functionality of the areas of the throat affected by cancer.
- Chemotherapy: This treatment uses anti- cancer drugs to kill the cancer cells in the body. These drugs can be taken orally or injected into the body.
- Radiotherapy: This involves using high- energy beams to kill cancer cells and may be external (using x- rays) or internal by using radioactive pellets.
- Targeted Therapy: It is a type of cancer treatment that uses drugs to target specific cancer cells without causing damage to normal cells.
- Immunotherapy: This cancer treatment option is meant to boost the immune system of the body and make it aware of the presence of cancer in the body thereby being able to fight the cancer cells.
After throat cancer treatment, you may need rehabilitation which usually involves:
- Speech therapy if your speech was affected by the cancer, and
- Therapy to help people who have difficulty swallowing and those who have stiffness and pain in the neck after their treatment.
Prevention of Throat Cancer
Even though there is no exact known way to prevent throat cancer, it is possible to reduce its risk factors by:
- Not smoking if you haven’t started and quitting if you already smoke
- Avoiding excessive alcohol intake
- Eating healthy by having for fruits and vegetables in your diet
- Getting vaccinated against HPV
- Avoid exposure to chemicals that increase throat cancer risk such as asbestos and nickel
- Getting screened regularly is also important as the earlier the diagnosis the more effective the treatment