What are early signs of throat cancer?

Updated November 21, 2016

Throat cancer is characterised by tumours growing on the pharynx or larynx. According to the American Cancer Society, 24,000 people are diagnosed with throat cancer each year. Early detection of throat cancer is vital to the effectiveness of treatment. Knowing the signs and symptoms can help you detect the disease and begin treatment earlier.

Sore Throat

One good indicator of throat cancer is having a sore throat that won't heal. Many feel as though they have a lump in their throat that will not go away and does not respond to medications. If your sore throat lasts longer than two weeks, you should see a doctor.


People with throat cancer experience hoarseness or a deepening in their voice. Hoarseness is characterised as a voice that is breathy, raspy or strained. This can be caused by the growth of tumours on the larynx. Some patients find it difficult to make a sound when they speak or breathe. Note any differences in your voice, or ask a family member or friend if they have noticed any changes.

Sinus Problems

Recurring sinus problems can be an indicator of throat cancer. Congestion, ear pain and headaches can be misdiagnosed as a sinus infection. Keep a diary of your symptoms to show your doctor. Make a follow-up appointment if you are still experiencing symptoms after taking antibiotics.

Face and Neck Pain

Facial numbness or pain that will not go away is another symptom. Neck pain can be either moderate or severe. Some people with throat cancer experience facial paralysis. Look for any hardening of the neck; some tumours grow on the outside of the neck. Be sure to note any physical changes on your neck or face.

Other Symptoms

Other common symptoms include nosebleeds, eye swelling,enlarged lymph nodes, sores on the mouth and tongue, pain in the teeth, cough and weight loss. Early detection is important to prevent cancer from spreading. Go see your doctor, documentation of your symptoms in hand, if you experience any of these symptoms for longer than two weeks. You doctor will decide on what kinds of tests should be done and if any biopsies should be performed. Throat cancer can be treated when you notice signs and seek help early.

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