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:
Epiglottis—flap in the throat that blocks the airways when you swallow food or drink
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:
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:
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 1 to 4. Stage 1 is a very localized cancer, while stage 4 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
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:
External radiation therapy—radiation directed at the tumor from a source outside the body
Internal radiation therapy—radioactive materials placed into the throat in or near the cancer cells
This is the use of drugs to kill cancer cells.
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.
To help reduce your chance of throat cancer:
Do not smoke or use tobacco products. If you do smoke or use tobacco products, talk to your doctor about how to
Drink alcohol only in moderation. Moderate alcohol intake is a maximum of 2 drinks per day for men and a maximum of 1 drink per day for women.
Oropharyngeal Cancer Treatment (Adult)–Health Professional Version National Cancer Institute website. Available at: https://www.cancer.gov/types/head-and-neck/hp/adult/oropharyngeal-treatment-pdq1. Updated November 7, 2019. Accessed December 4, 2019.
Pfister DG, Spencer S, et al. Head and Neck Cancers. Version 1.2018. In: National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology (NCCN Guidelines). NCCN 2018 Feb from NCCN website.
EBSCO Information Services is fully accredited by URAC. URAC is an independent, nonprofit health care accrediting organization dedicated to promoting health care quality through accreditation, certification and commendation.
This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.
To send comments or feedback to our Editorial Team regarding the content please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Our Health Library Support team will respond to your email request within 2 business days.