Throat cancer is the presence of malignant cells in the tissues of the pharynx, larynx, or tonsils. It can affect anyone, although it is more common in some people. Without proper and timely treatment, throat cancer can become life-threatening. Early detection and treatment can significantly improve the chances of survival.
Treatment options for throat cancer include surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy. Some individuals may require a combination of these treatments. Treatment is determined by the type and stage of cancer and the overall health of the patient. With prompt and appropriate treatment, many people with throat cancer achieve remission and go on to live full, healthy lives.
How Common Is Throat Cancer?
Throat cancer is not as common as some other types of cancer, but it still affects a significant number of people worldwide. According to the American Cancer Society, over 32,450 people will receive some type of throat cancer diagnosis in 2023. There are several types of throat cancer, including squamous cell carcinoma, adenocarcinoma, and lymphoma. Squamous cell carcinoma is the most common type and accounts for over 90% of all cases.
Who’s at Risk of Throat Cancer?
Throat cancer can occur at any age, but individuals who are over the age of 50 are more likely to develop the condition. Men are also more likely to develop throat cancer than women. The incidence of throat cancer has been increasing in recent years, particularly among younger people. This is thought to be due in part to the increasing prevalence of human papillomavirus (HPV) infection, which is a risk factor for throat cancer.
However, some people with early-stage throat cancer may not experience any symptoms, which is why regular screenings are important for early detection.
Below are additional throat cancer risk factors.
Tobacco and alcohol use: Tobacco and excessive alcohol use are two of the biggest risk factors for throat cancer. Smoking, chewing tobacco, and long-term heavy alcohol consumption can all increase the risk of developing throat cancer.
Human papillomavirus (HPV) infection: HPV is a sexually transmitted virus that increases the risk of certain types of throat cancer, especially those involving the tonsils and base of the tongue.
Poor nutrition: A diet low in fruits and vegetables and high in processed foods can increase the risk of developing throat cancer.
Chemical exposure: Exposure to certain chemicals, such as asbestos and formaldehyde, can increase the risk of developing throat cancer.
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD): Chronic acid reflux, which can cause irritation and inflammation of the lining of the throat, may increase the risk of developing throat cancer.
Genetics: A family history of throat cancer may increase the risk of developing the disease.
Having one or more of these risk factors does not necessarily mean that throat cancer is imminent. However, it’s important to be aware of these so you can take steps to help lower your risk of developing throat cancer. Regular screenings and early detection can also help improve outcomes for people at high risk of developing throat cancer.
Is Throat Cancer Preventable?
Throat cancer is preventable in many cases. The following actions can help lower your risk of developing throat cancer:
- Avoid tobacco
- Avoid or reduce alcohol consumption
- Practice safe sex
- Maintain a healthy diet
- Get HPV Vaccination
Regular screenings and early detection are also important for improving outcomes for people with throat cancer. If you experience any symptoms of throat cancer, such as a persistent sore throat, difficulty swallowing, or changes in your voice, it’s important to see an ENT doctor right away. Early detection and prompt treatment can significantly improve the chances of a positive outcome.
Never Ignore These 6 Signs of Throat Cancer
Throat cancer causes a wide variety of symptoms, some of which are similar to other less serious conditions. However, if you experience any of the following signs or symptoms, it’s important to see a doctor as soon as possible:
Persistent sore throat: A sore throat that doesn’t go away or persists despite treatment with antibiotics may be a sign of throat cancer.
Difficulty swallowing: Difficulty swallowing, or dysphagia, can be a sign of throat cancer, particularly if it is accompanied by pain or a sensation of something being stuck in the throat.
Changes in your voice: Hoarseness, changes in the pitch or tone of your voice, or a feeling that your voice is weak or breathy can all be signs of throat cancer.
Ear pain: Throat cancer can sometimes cause ear pain that is not related to an ear infection or injury.
Swollen lymph nodes: Throat cancer can cause lymph nodes in the neck to become enlarged and tender to the touch.
Unexplained weight loss: Unexplained weight loss of 10 pounds or more may be a sign of throat cancer or another serious medical condition.
Many of these symptoms can also be caused by other less serious conditions, so proper medical attention is necessary for an accurate diagnosis. If you experience any of these symptoms, see an ENT doctor for an evaluation to rule out throat cancer or other serious medical conditions. Early detection and treatment are necessary to significantly improve the outcome and increase your chances of a full recovery.