Throat cancer is a term used to include malignant tumors of the pharynx (throat), larynx (voice box) and the tonsils. Sometimes tumors of the upper part of the esophagus (food pipe) are also referred to as throat tumors. Most of the throat cancers are seen in people who smoke excessively. High and regular alcohol intake is also said to be a cause of throat cancer. Apart from these two common causes, throat cancer is also common in people with a positive family history, history of exposure to radiation and chronic goiter. This type of cancer is usually seen in men above the age of fifty and is ten times more likely to develop in males as compared to females.
Although non-specific to begin with, the symptoms of throat cancer can be noticed much earlier compared to other cancers. This is especially true when the cancer originates in the voice box. The earliest symptoms of throat cancer may include:
- Hoarseness of voice: The quality of voice of a person suffering from throat cancer often becomes rough.
- Feeling of a foreign body or a lump in the throat: Many times, people not suffering from cancer complain of a foreign body sensation in their throat even when there is no lump or foreign body present. In such a situation, this symptom is called as globus hystericus. However, a lump may be felt in patients of throat cancer as well.
- Cough: The patients of throat cancer often complain of cough. It is initially dry in nature and is caused due to the irritation of the throat region by a tumor or a foreign body. However, as the cancer advances, the tumor may ulcerate. Therefore, the cough in this stage of disease is often associated with blood stained sputum.
- Laryngeal stridor: A the cancer becomes bigger in size, it obstructs the airway. This obstruction of the airway leads to a high pitched crowing sound every time the patient inhales. This sound is better known as laryngeal stridor. The tumor may grow big enough to completely obstruct the airway leading to suffocation and even death.
- Pain in throat: Apart from the above mentioned symptoms, a patient with throat cancer often complains of pain in the throat region. It may remain confined to the throat or may radiate to head and ears.
- Difficulty in swallowing: Because of the presence of tumor, the patient experiences difficulty in swallowing.
- Bad breath: The patient of throat cancer may complain of a bad breath and a cough associated with sputum with a bad odor.
Throat cancer can rapidly metastasize to nearby structures resulting in symptoms of advanced cancer. Some of these symptoms include:
- Swelling of the lymph nodes in the neck region
- Soft tissue swelling in front of the neck
- Slurring of speech due to involvement of tongue
- Unexplained weight loss
- Generalized fatigue
- Breathing difficulties
If any of the symptoms discussed above persist for a period of more than one month, it is advisable to get a thorough check up done by an ENT specialist. If throat cancer is diagnosed, treatment should be started as soon as possible.
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