Throat cancer is the presence of cancer cells or tumor(s) in the throat. The throat is made of a number of structures and the term throat cancer represents all of these cancers including cancer of the:
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Cancer occurs when cells in the body divide without control or order. Eventually these uncontrolled cells form a growth or tumor. The term cancer refers to malignant growths. These growths can invade nearby tissues including the lymph nodes. Cancer that has invaded the lymph nodes can then spread to other parts of the body.
It is not clear exactly what causes these problems in the cells, but is probably a combination of genetics and environment.
Throat cancer is more common in men, and in people aged 40 years and older. Other factors that may increase your chances of throat cancer:
Throat cancer may cause:
You will be asked 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 tissues may be tested. This can be done with:
Images may be taken to evaluate your throat and surrounding structures. This can be done with:
The physical exam, combined with all of your test results, will help to determine the type and stage of cancer you have. Staging is used to guide your treatment plan. Like other cancers, throat cancer is staged from I-IV. Stage I is a very localized cancer, while stage IV indicates a spread to other parts of the body.
Cancer treatment varies depending on the stage and type of cancer. A combination of therapies may be more effective. For example, surgery may be used in conjunction with chemo- or radiation therapy.
Treatment options for throat cancer include:
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 aspiration pneumonia. In this case, a tracheotomy may need to be done. 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:
To help reduce your chance of throat cancer:
American Cancer Society
National Cancer Institute
BC Cancer Agency
Canadian Cancer Society
About oral cavity and oropharyngeal cancers. American Cancer Society website. Available at: https://www.cancer.org/cancer/oral-cavity-and-oropharyngeal-cancer/about.html. Accessed October 6, 2017.
Forastiere AA. Head and neck cancer: overview of recent developments and future directions. Semin Oncol. 2000;27(4 Suppl 8):1-4.
Forastiere AA, Trotti A. Radiotherapy and concurrent chemotherapy: a strategy that improves locoregional control and survival in oropharyngeal cancer. J Natl Cancer Inst. 1999;91(24):2065-2066.
General information about oropharyngeal cancer. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: https://www.cancer.gov/types/head-and-neck/patient/oropharyngeal-treatment-pdq#link/_1. Updated June 15, 2017. Accessed October 6, 2017.
Head and neck cancer. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115660/Head-and-neck-cancer . Updated August 30, 2017. Accessed October 6, 2017.
Last reviewed September 2018 by
EBSCO Medical Review Board
Mohei Abouzied, MD, FACP
Last Updated: 6/30/2016