Throat cancer: Signs and symptoms to look out for

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Throat cancer is a term that can apply to several different types of cancers that occur in different locations in the head and neck. In 2018, more than 30,000 people in the U.S. received a throat cancer diagnosis of some kind, according to MD Anderson Cancer Center.

Both laryngeal and hypopharyngeal cancers start in the lower part of the throat. Patients diagnosed with laryngeal cancer mean that the disease was detected in an area affecting the voice box, including the supraglottis, which is located above the vocal cords, the glottis, which contains the vocal cords or the subglottis, which is below the vocal cords, according to the American Cancer Society.

A diagnosis of hypopharyngeal cancer means the disease was detected in an area that is located beside the larynx and is considered the entrance to the esophagus. Almost all cancers located in the larynx or hypopharynx develop from cells called squamous cells.

Symptoms of the disease may present as hoarseness or change to the voice, difficulty swallowing or the feeling that something is in the throat, persistent sore throat, ear pain, lump in the neck, cough, breathing problems or unexplained weight loss, according to MD Cancer Anderson Cancer Center.


People with a history of smoking or exposure to tobacco are at a higher risk of developing head and neck cancers, as well as those who have moderate to heavy alcohol use. People who use both tobacco and alcohol are at the highest risk of all, according to the American Cancer Society. Poor nutrition is also a risk factor, as is an HPV diagnosis. Genetic syndromes may also raise risk as well as workplace exposure to wood dust, paint fumes and certain chemicals.

Gender also seems to play a role, with cancers of the larynx and hypopharynx being almost four times more common in men than women, which may be due to the lifestyle factors mentioned above. Over half of patients with these cancers are 65 and older at the time of diagnosis, according to the American Cancer Society.


Treatment for these cancers usually depends on the stage at which they are discovered and the location in which they occur. Surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, targeted therapy and immunotherapy are all options for this patient population and should be discussed with a specialist.

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