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What is Throat Cancer?
Throat cancer refers to cancer of the voice box, the vocal cords, and other parts of the throat, such as the tonsils and oropharynx. It is relatively uncommon in comparison to other cancers. The alternative names for throat cancer are: vocal cord cancer, laryngeal cancer, cancer of the glottis, or cancer of the pharynx. The risks of developing throat cancer increased if you are a frequent user of alcohol, cigarettes, and chewing tobacco. Cancer of the throat involves tumors on the tonsils, vocal cords, voice box (larynx) and at the base of the tongue.
Types of Throat Cancer
Every throat cancer patient is different. So it depends on your doctor to identify your specific type to determine the most effective treatment plan.
Two primary types of throat cancer are:
Squamous cell carcinoma. This type of throat cancer affects the flat cells lining the throat. It’s the most common throat cancer.
Adenocarcinoma. This type of throat cancer affects the glandular cells and is rare.
Cancer that forms in tissues of the pharynx (the hollow tube inside the neck that starts behind the nose and ends at the top of the windpipe and esophagus). Throat cancer includes cancer of the nasopharynx (the upper part of the throat behind the nose), the oropharynx (the middle part of the pharynx), and the hypopharynx (the bottom part of the pharynx). Cancer of the larynx (voice box) may also be included as a type of throat cancer. Most throat cancers are squamous cell carcinomas (cancer that begins in thin, flat cells that look like fish scales). Also called pharyngeal cancer.
What are the symptoms of Throat Cancer?
Signs of throat cancer may be difficult to identify in the early stages of the disease. Many symptoms associated with throat cancer are the same as those that may accompany a cold or sore throat.
Common throat cancer symptoms may include:
· Difficulty swallowing, also known as dysphagia
· Changes in your voice
· Sore throat
· Unexplained weight loss
· Swelling of the eyes, jaw, throat or neck
· Bleeding in the mouth or through the nose
· Chronic cough
· ear pain
Some symptoms of throat cancer are specific to certain areas of the body. For instance, voice changes may be a sign of laryngeal (voice box) cancer, but they would rarely indicate cancer of the pharynx.
Causes and risk factors of Throat Cancer
As with many cancers, the risk of developing throat cancer increases with age, with most people being over the age of 65.Men are more likely to develop throat cancer than women.
Certain lifestyle habits increase the risk of developing cancer of the throat, including:
· excessive alcohol consumption
· poor nutrition
· exposure to asbestos
· poor dental hygiene
· genetic syndromes
Human papillomavirus (HPV) infection: Research has found that HPV infection is responsible for rising rates of throat cancer, particularly among patients with oropharyngeal cancer.
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD): When acid moves from the stomach into the esophagus, acid reflux develops. Chronic acid reflux, or GERD, may increase throat cancer risk depending on its frequency and severity.
Epstein-Barr virus (EBV): This common virus is transmitted via saliva. Contracting EBV may increase the likelihood of developing throat cancer.
Stages of Throat Cancer
Doctors use a variety of diagnostic tests to evaluate throat cancer and develop an individualized treatment plan. On finding cancerous cells in your throat, your doctor will order additional tests to identify the stage, or the extent, of your cancer. The stages range from 0 to 4:
Stage 0: The tumor is only on the top layer of cells of the affected part of the throat.
Stage 1: The tumor is less than 2 cm and limited to the part of the throat where it started.
Stage 2: The tumor is between 2 and 4 cm or may have grown into a nearby area.
Stage 3: The tumor is larger than 4 cm or has grown into other structures in the throat or has spread to one lymph node.
Stage 4: The tumor has spread to the lymph nodes or distant organs.
Diagnosing Throat Cancer
Some symptoms such as a sore throat, hoarseness, and persistent cough with no improvement and no other explanation may be the because of throat cancer.
To check for throat cancer, your doctor will perform a direct or an indirect laryngoscopy. A laryngoscopy gives your doctor a closer view of your throat. If this test reveals abnormalities, your doctor may take a tissue sample (called a biopsy) from your throat and test the sample for cancer.
Treatment for Throat Cancer
Treatment options for throat cancer include surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy. The treatment method recommended by your doctor will depend on the extent of your disease, among other factors. Treatment is aimed at destruction of the cancer and prevention of spread of the cancer to other parts of the body. The earlier throat cancer is diagnosed, the better the prospect of recovery.
The treatment needs long term recovery. Some people with throat cancer require therapy after treatment to relearn how to speak. This can be improved by working with a speech therapist and a physical therapist.
In addition, some people with throat cancer experience complications. These may include:
· difficulty swallowing
· disfigurement of the neck or face
· inability to speak
· difficulty breathing
· skin hardening around the neck
Occupational therapists can help with swallowing difficulty. You can discuss reconstructive surgery with your doctor if you have face or neck disfigurement after surgery.
Preventing Throat Cancer
One of the best ways to prevent throat cancer is to not smoke or chew tobacco. It can be prevented by avoiding risk factors such as heavy drinking. You should also have some good diet, keeping the health fit by doing the exercises, having the nutritious food intake and protecting yourselves from risk of HPV. This virus has been linked to throat cancer. To protect yourself, practice safe sex. Also talk to your doctor about the benefits of the HPV vaccine.to be free from the disease.
It is always advisable to visit your doctor to be sure of any abnormality in your body.