Throat cancer happens when cells inside your throat start to grow and divide uncontrollably. The cancer usually develops in the throat lining, but it can also start in other areas such as the larynx or the epiglottis at the top of your windpipe.
Symptoms of Throat Cancer
Throat cancer can cause a range of different symptoms, which are often similar to those causes by other conditions such as throat infections. However, the symptoms of throat cancer aren’t associated with other signs of infection such as a fever, and they won’t go away by themselves.
Possible signs of throat cancer include:
- Difficulty swallowing
- Sore throat
- Hoarseness or other voice changes
- Lumps or swellings in your throat
- Unexplained weight loss
Although these symptoms can all be caused by throat cancer, it’s important to remember that they aren’t usually a sign of anything serious. However, it’s important to get checked out just in case.
Who is at Risk of Throat Cancer?
Anyone can be affected by throat cancer, but you are more likely to develop it if you:
- Smoke or use other forms of tobacco
- Drink a lot of alcohol
- Have Gastro-oesophageal Reflux Disease
- Don’t eat much fruit or vegetables
Changing your lifestyle and getting treatment if you have GORD can reduce the risk of throat cancer. It’s also important to be aware of the risks of HPV, a sexually transmitted virus that can cause some throat cancers. Practicing safe sex and getting the HPV vaccine can protect you.
Diagnosing and Treating Throat Cancer
If you have symptoms that could be caused by throat cancer then it’s important to see a doctor. Although other conditions such as throat infections are more likely to be the cause, it’s essential to rule out more serious causes. In some cases, it will turn out to be throat cancer and you will need treatment right away.
You will usually need an endoscopy if your doctor suspects throat cancer. The procedure uses a special camera to look inside your throat. The doctor will be able to take a biopsy or sample of any abnormalities that are found during endoscopy. Other tests used to diagnose throat cancer include CT scans and MRIs.
If you are diagnosed with throat cancer then it may be possible to eliminate the cancer cells with radiotherapy, chemotherapy or targeted drug therapies. However, surgery may be necessary to remove the affected areas. Early stage throat cancer can often be surgically removed during an endoscopy, but it is sometimes necessary to remove some or all of the voice box or throat.
As long as the cancer is detected early enough, it should be possible to remove the tumour before it spreads. However, it’s important to see a doctor right away if you think you might have throat cancer in order to have the best chances of success.