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Some people complain about feeling a lump in the throat. When you go to your doctor and ask them about this sensation, they are most likely to ask a few questions to get a precise description of your symptoms. After all, the throat is an area in the head and neck that, although seemingly small, contains many structures that could be causing your symptoms. Furthermore, your doctor will be interested to know how long the lump has been there, especially if you are anxious to find out if the lump in your throat could be cancer.
What Structures Make Up The Throat?
The throat, or pharynx, is a muscular passage at the back of the mouth that begins behind the nose and ends in the neck. It is a complex structure where food and drinks pass down to the food pipe (esophagus) and where air also passes in and out through the windpipe (trachea).
Your pharynx consists of three parts:
- The nasopharynx, which joins the back of your nose to the back of your mouth
- The oropharynx at the back of the mouth, which contains the base of your tongue, soft palate, and back wall of your throat, and
- The hypopharynx, which connects the pharynx to the esophagus and the trachea via the voice box or larynx.
Aside from feeling a lump in the throat, it is not uncommon for some people to have other accompanying symptoms, including these:
- A palpable swelling or sore
- Ear pain
- A sore throat
- Cold-like symptoms
- Muscle aches
- Difficulty swallowing
- A change in voice, or hoarseness
- Trouble breathing
- Weight loss
Many patients also refer to other structures such as the tonsils, the neck, and the thyroid gland in front of the neck when they complain about having a lump in the throat. This is why the doctor has to make a thorough examination of the structures in the head and neck whenever a patient comes with this vague symptom.
What Causes a Lump In The Throat?
There are many possible reasons for you to feel a lump in the throat. Most of these are common but not serious. Possible causes of lump in the throat include:
- Infection, such as viral pharyngitis, strep throat, tonsillitis, or peritonsillar abscess
- Inflammation, such as esophagitis, laryngitis, or swollen glands
- A benign (not cancerous) new growth or lump such as goiter, thyroid nodules, lipoma, or sebaceous cyst under the skin of the neck
- Panic attack, which may cause a sensation of having a lump in the throat
- Other causes including stroke, swallowing a foreign object, weakness of the muscles in the throat, etc.
- Cancer or malignant new growth in one of the structures in the throat
Cancer In The Throat
Experts seldom use the term “cancer of the throat” because there are several different kinds of cancer that may involve the different parts of your throat and mouth. Depending on the structures in throat involved, a lump in the throat may be classified as:
- Nasopharyngeal cancer, which involves the part of your throat behind your nose.
- Oropharyngeal cancer, which involves the tonsils and surrounding tissues, the base of the tongue, the soft palate, and the walls of the throat.
- Hypopharyngeal or laryngopharyngeal cancer, which involves the lower part of your throat above the food pipe and windpipe.
- Glottic cancer, which involves the vocal cords.
- Supraglottic cancer, which involves the epiglottis and upper portion of the larynx.
- Subglottic cancer, which involves the lower portion of the voice box, below the vocal cords.