Often also referred to as the pharynx, the throat is a hollow tube which is approximately five inches in length, it is made up of a muscular system and it extends from behind the nose down to the neck.
When cells mutate and grow out of control, a cancer tumor may develop. When such a cancerous tumor develops in the throat it is known as throat cancer. Due to its proximity, however, throat cancer can also affect the voice box (larynx) — a structure made of cartilage that houses the vocal cords which vibrate to generate the sound of talking, singing, laughing, etc. Also because of its anatomical nearness, cancer can likewise develop in the cells of the epiglottis — the cartilage covering for the windpipe.
According to the American Cancer Society, about 24,000 people get newly diagnosed with throat cancer every year in the United States. Roughly 50% of these cancers affect the pharynx, a very small percentage of them affect the epiglottis and the rest of the cancers affect the larynx.
The Different Types of Throat Cancer
Throat cancer is a relatively general term which refers to a cancer that develops in the throat (pharyngeal cancer) as well as that which develops in the voice box (laryngeal cancer). However, based on the location where the cancer actually began, more specific classifications have also been assigned such as: nasopharyngeal cancer, oropharyngeal, hypophayngeal cancer (laryngopharyngeal cancer), glottic cancer, supraglottic cancer, and subglottic cancer.
Signs & Symptoms
Largely depending on its location, the signs of throat cancer are wide and varied. However, the most common of them are: dry and unproductive cough; the voice becomes hoarse and raspy; swallowing becomes progressively more difficult; pain in one or both ears; a sore throat that would just not go away; a swelling or an open sore that refuses to heal; inexplicable weight loss.
Causes and Risk Factors
There is no conclusive evidence that points to any one cause or even a set of causes for throat cancer. However, the factors which have been known to increase the risk for its development are:
Tobacco. Smoking (cigarette, cigar or pipe) and/or chewing tobacco.
Alcohol. Extreme consumption of alcoholic beverages.
Dental Hygiene. Poor or inadequate dental hygiene.
HPV. HPV IS the human papillomavirus which is a sexually transmitted disease.
Dietary Deficiency. Low intake of fruits and vegetables.
Toxins. A variety of toxins but most specifically asbestos which is a fiber that is used in manufacturing and construction.
The treatments for throat cancer depend on the stage of the disease, on the patient’s general health condition and on the type of cells which have been affected.
Radiation. For the most part, radiation therapy to destroy the cancer cells is prescribed for most cancer patients, and it can be administered externally or internally.
Surgery. Surgery is another treatment option for throat cancer patients and it may be a mere endoscopic procedure when only surface cells are involved; laryngectomy (the partial or total removal of the voice box); pharyngectomy (the removal of part of the throat or the entire throat); or neck dissection for the removal of affected lymph nodes;.
Chemotherapy. Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to kill cancerous cells and it is often used along with radiation treatments because combining the two increases each of their effects.
Medications. There are several medications (targeted drugs) which are used to inhibit the growth of cancer cells by either depriving them of blood supply or essential nourishment.