Throat cancer is a general term often used to describe squamous cell carcinomas that occur in the skin and mucous membranes of the throat and neck. The medical name for the throat is the pharynx. The disease can affect the vocal cords, the voice box (larynx) or the esophagus. Knowing what symptoms to check for is part of a proactive approach to deterring the development of throat cancer.
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Be aware that the incidence of throat cancer increases after age 50. The disease is 10 times more common in men than women. Around 1,500 people are diagnosed with throat cancers each year in the UK, with around 470 people dying from the disease.
Consider your lifestyle. Smoking or other use of tobacco products increases your risk for throat cancer, as does the excessive consumption of alcohol.
Look out for these common symptoms according to the varrying types:
Oropharynx: common symptoms are a persistent sore throat, a lump in the mouth or throat, pain in the ear.
Hypopharynx: problems with swallowing and ear pain are common symptoms and hoarseness is not uncommon.
Nasopharynx: most likely to cause a lump in the neck, but may also cause nasal obstruction, deafness and postnasal discharge.
Be aware. Pay close attention to a nagging cough, especially if it is producing blood.
Evaluate your health. If you have a sore throat for more than two weeks, have chronic neck pain or difficulty swallowing or a hoarse voice for an extended period of time, contact a doctor.
Pay attention to your breathing. Producing high-pitched or squeaky noises when breathing is not normal.
Ask your physician to perform a laryngoscopy, a simple examination of the throat with a lighted miniature camera.
Consult with your GP about a CT scan or MRI of the neck or cranium if a tumour or symptoms of throat cancer are present. These tests can often determine if the carcinoma has expanded to the lymph nodes of the neck.
Be prepared to have a biopsy analysis of throat tissue, especially if a lump has appeared on the side of your neck or if blood is found in the sputum.
Tips and warnings
- If throat cancer is confirmed and surgery is required, ask your doctor about the extent of the surgery and whether reconstruction will be necessary afterward.
- According to Cancer Research UK, about 90 percent of throat cancer patients will enjoy a full recovery, providing the disease is detected early. That's why it's important to periodically check for throat cancer symptoms, especially if you may be at high risk.
- A diagnosis of throat cancer can lead to feelings of helplessness or depression. Ask you doctor about local support groups or therapists who can help.