Jennifer Hellwig, MS, RD
Throat cancer is a disease in which cancer cells grow in an abnormal way in the throat.
Cancer occurs when cells in the body—in this case throat cells—divide without control or order. Normally, cells divide in a regulated manner. If cells keep dividing uncontrollably when new cells are not needed, a mass of tissue forms, called a growth or tumor. The term cancer refers to
malignant tumors, which can invade nearby tissues and spread to other parts of the body. A
usually does not invade or spread.
The cause of throat cancer is not known.
Factors that can increase your chance of developing throat cancer include:
If you have any of these symptoms, do not assume it is due to throat cancer. These symptoms may be caused by other conditions. Tell your doctor if you have any of these:
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. The doctor may feel for any lumps in your neck. You may be referred to an otolaryngologist, a doctor who specializes in head and neck surgery.
Your bodily fluids and tissue may be tested. This can be done with:
Your internal structures may need to be viewed and examined. This can be done with:
When throat cancer is found, staging tests are done to find out if the cancer has spread. Treatment depends on the stage of the cancer.
Surgery removes the cancerous tumor and nearby tissue, and possibly nearby lymph nodes. In very rare cases, surgery to remove large tumors of the throat may also require removal of tissue for swallowing. As a result, food may enter the windpipe and reach the lungs, which might cause
pneumonia. In cases when this is a risk, your surgeon may remove the larynx or voice box. The windpipe will be attached to the skin through a hole in the neck, which is used for breathing.
This is the use of radiation to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. Radiation may be:
This is the use of drugs to kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy may be given in many forms including pill, injection, and/or via a catheter. The drugs enter the bloodstream and travel through the body killing mostly cancer cells, but also some healthy cells.
Often times, chemotherapy and radiation therapy are used together to kill cancer of the
throat. This combined approach may be better than surgery or radiation alone.
To reduce your chance of getting throat cancer, take the following steps:
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BC Cancer Agency
Canadian Cancer Society
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General information about oropharyngeal cancer. National Cancer Institute website. Available at:
http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/treatment/oropharyngeal/patient. Accessed May 1, 2013.
What are the risk factors for oral cavity and oropharyngeal cancers? American Cancer Society website. Available at:
http://www.cancer.org/cancer/oralcavityandoropharyngealcancer/detailedguide/oral-cavity-and-oropharyngeal-cancer-risk-factors. Updated February 26, 2013. Accessed May 1, 2013.
Last reviewed May 2013 by Igor Puzanov, MD;
Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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