Tumors that develop in the throat, voice box, vocal cords or tonsils are referred to as throat cancer. People who smoke, use smokeless tobacco or drink alcohol are most at risk of developing this type of head and neck cancer. A history of HPV (Human Papilloma virus) infection or exposure to HPV is another known risk for cancer involving the tonsils or base of tongue.
Symptoms of Throat Cancer
Many symptoms of throat cancer are associated with other, less serious conditions, so don’t worry needlessly if you experience some of these signs. Make an appointment with a doctor for a thorough exam and diagnosis if any of the following symptoms are persistent:
- Chronic cough (especially if you are coughing up blood).
- Hoarseness or other changes in your voice.
- Difficulty swallowing.
- Lumps in the neck.
- Ear or neck pain.
- Sore throat.
- Weight loss.
- Enlargement of one tonsil only.
- Sores on the neck.
Your doctor will attempt to rule out other, more common causes first. They will examine your throat with a lighted scope and likely order a biopsy if an abnormality is spotted. Imaging tests, including X-rays, CT scans, MRIs and PET scans, can help your doctor better assess your cancer.. Once diagnosed, the cancer will be assigned a stage (I-IV) that indicates its extent and helps determine which course of treatment to pursue.
Treatment for throat cancer depends on the tumor’s size, location and whether it has spread to other areas of the body. Radiation therapy, surgery and chemotherapy – or a combination of the three – may be employed. Sometimes a tracheotomy may be required to protect your airway from blockage caused by the cancer or swelling from radiation therapy. A PEG tube (percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy tube) may be necessary if you have problems swallowing.
Radiation therapy delivers radiation to the cancerous cells through X-rays or other high-energy beams, causing them to die. It is most effective in early-stage cancers, where it may be the only treatment necessary.
Surgery can be effective for cancers of various stages. Procedures to remove all or portions of your voice box (laryngectomy) or throat (pharyngectomy) may be necessary. If cancer has spread to the lymph nodes, a neck dissection to remove those cancerous cells may be recommended.
Chemotherapy relies on chemicals to kill cancer cells. It is often used in combination with radiation therapy for better results.
Following treatment, you may need speech therapy or swallowing therapy, depending on the procedure(s) performed.
If detected early, throat cancers have a cure rate of 90 percent. If the cancer has spread to surrounding tissues or lymph nodes and is associated with a history of smoking and/or alcohol abuse, it is curable in 50 to 60 percent of patients. The prognosis for throat cancer associated with an HPV infection has a much better cure rate regardless of the stage at presentation when compared to those cancers associated with smoking and alcohol.
Call Comprehensive ENT at (804) 228-4480 for more information or to schedule an appointment.