Throat cancer is caused by genetic mutations in the cells of the pharynx. It can occur in the nasopharynx, which is the portion of the throat behind the nose; in the hypopharynx, which is the lower part of the throat; or in the oropharynx, the middle part of the throat. Throat cancer, which is sometimes referred to as pharyngeal cancer, is diagnosed in more than 13,000 people each year. It is also sometimes grouped together with cancer of the larynx (laryngeal cancer), which accounts for another 12,000 diagnoses annually. Together, they are categorized as head and neck cancers.
Regardless of which of the three parts of the throat are affected by cancer, its presentation is usually the same. The cancer forms in the squamous cells, which are the cells that line the throat, but it can spread to other areas from there.
Causes and Symptoms
Throat cancer is often a preventable disease, as many of the risk factors that lead to it are the result of lifestyle choices. For example, heavy use of alcohol, regular use of cigarettes or chewing tobacco and eating a nutrient-poor diet are all risk factors for developing throat cancer. Certain viruses may also raise the risk for some types of throat cancer.
The different forms of throat cancer share some common symptoms, including a persistent sore throat, pain in the neck or surrounding areas and difficulty swallowing. You might also detect a lump in the area, notice a change in voice, have a persistent cough or experience nosebleeds or ringing in the ears.
Treatment of Throat Cancer
Radiation therapy is often the first line of defense in trying to eradicate throat cancer. The radiation can be delivered from outside the body by a machine that is aimed at the throat, or it can be given via a tube that's inserted in the mouth. Chemotherapy is also sometimes administered to kill cancer cells. In general, surgery is considered an option of last resort for throat cancer, used only if radiation therapy is unsuccessful. Surgery may involve removal of the lymph nodes and other tissues in the neck.
SOURCES: U.S. National Cancer Institute