Throat Cancer: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

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Introduction of alcohol and cigarettes into the modern lifestyle has been blamed for the increasing occurrence of throat cancer. Seemingly innocent symptoms like sore throat and difficulty in swallowing may be due to presence of cancerous cells in throat.

Throat cancer is a type of cancer associated with areas of throat which include the vocal cords, voice box or larynx and others. Included in the broader group of Head and Neck Cancer, cancer of throat is mainly caused by regular consumption of tobacco products and alcohol. Biopsy along with X-ray and CT scan are generally performed to ascertain throat cancer.


  • Alcohol and tobacco products are the most potent causes of throat cancer and are even more dangerous when ingested in combination.
  • Constant exposure to environments prevalent in some industries such as nickel refining, textile fiber, asbestos, petroleum and woodworks increase the risk of having throat cancer.
  • Males are 10 times more prone to throat cancer than females.
  • Adults older than 50 years are more likely to have throat cancer than others.
  • Excessive consumption of processed and red meats is shown to increase the risk of cancer in research studies.
  • Some types of throat cancer are shown to be associated with Human papillomavirus (HPV).
  • Consuming large quantities of salted fish is sometimes responsible for throat cancer.


Common symptoms of throat cancer include:

  • Hoarseness of voice for 2-3 weeks for no obvious reason
  • Abnormal sound caused during breathing
  • Cough with blood
  • Swelling or lump in the throat which doesn’t go away after 2-3 weeks even with full dosage of antibiotics
  • Difficulty with swallowing
  • Persistent earache
  • Unexplained and sudden weight loss
  • Persistent  white, black or red patches in mouth
  • Numbness or paralysis of facial muscles 



Surgery is frequently used in the treatment of throat cancer. Usually the cancerous cells are removed completely to prevent the further spread of the disease. The disadvantages involve unwanted removal of healthy tissues and removal of voice box leaving the patient with speech problems. A novel type of surgery “Transoral laser microsurgery” solves this problem by removing the need of an external incision. The treatment allows the surgeon to preserve as much of the vocal cord and voice box as possible.

Radiation Therapy:

Intensity-modulated radiation therapy is the most common type of radiation therapy used in the treatment of throat cancer. High energy photons are used to destroy the cancerous cells. Cancerous cells are preferably destroyed over normal cells due to their high rate of cell division.


Chemotherapy is generally used to make it difficult for the metastatic cells to spread to other healthy areas. Commonly used chemicals are Taxol , Carboplatin and Erbitux.


  • If detected in an early stage, throat cancer is curable with a 90% success rate.
  • If cancer has spread to lymphatic tissues of the neck too, the success rate is usually between 50% and 60%.
  • If the cancer has metastasized i.e. has spread to other areas including the lungs, then the cancer is usually considered to be incurable and efforts are made to improve the quality of life of the patient.
  • Special therapies are required for the patients after the treatment to help with speech and swallowing.
  • Radiation therapy used in the treatment may cause several side effects such as nausea and vomiting which in turn may lead to fluid loss and electrolyte imbalance in the body.
  • Chemotherapy and radiation therapy used to treat the cancer are themselves carcinogenic and may cause second primary tumors after the initial cancer is cured.

Improvements in the understanding of cancer and treatment methods have resulted in increased survival and better quality of life. One of the important issue in cancer is the choice of the treatment method which depends on multiple factors such as tumor site and size, overall patient health and nutritional status and previous history of primary tumor.A healthy balanced diet, avoidance of alcohol and tobaco and regular check-ups reduces the risk of throat cancer significantly.



Ed Dantz
Posted on Apr 19, 2012
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