Throat cancer most commonly affects the pharynx, larynx and the vocal cords. The pharynx resembles a hollow, cylindrical pipe; it is about 5 inches long and ranges from the back of the nasal cavity and mouth to the esophagus. Throat cancer of the pharynx, pharyngeal cancer, occurs when the cells in this region begin to divide uncontrollably or without regulation.
Some demographics are at a higher risk for throat cancer. Smokers, tobacco users, severe acid reflux disease sufferers and those with throat cancer in their families are more likely to develop the disease. Throat cancer is not distributed equally across gender; throat cancer symptoms are more common in men than in women. Older men, especially around the age of 50, are most at risk. Individuals infected with Human Papilloma Virus and its variants are also at risk of developing throat cancer symptoms.
Throat cancer symptoms often get lost with those of other diseases because of their indistinguishable nature. Some common throat cancer symptoms include a persistent sore throat, difficulty swallowing, voice abnormalities, hoarseness in voice, oral sores, tongue sores, swollen lymph nodes and ear aches. Other symptoms include bloody sputum, cervical lumps, unexplained weight loss, feeling or presence of a lump in the throat, persistent coughing and abnormal breathing sounds. Most of these symptoms are persistent unlike those of an ordinary sore throat, cold or other common infections. If there are multiple symptoms in a patient, the likelihood of him or her having throat cancer is very high. Throat cancer symptoms may also lead to a diagnosis of other gastrointestinal cancers. About 10 to 15 percent of patients with throat cancer also have cancer of the esophagus or of the mouth. If throat cancer symptoms persist for more than 2 weeks, a physician should be contacted to diagnose the condition. A timely diagnosis is the best weapon against throat cancer. At least 2000 Americans die of throat cancer each year; the incidence of throat cancer is highest in African American men, followed by white men and Hispanic men, respectively.
Throat cancer and pharyngeal disorders are diagnosed by otolaryngologists or head and neck surgeons. An otolaryngologist begins by examining the cervical-neck region and reviewing the patient’s medical history. Tissues or cells are removed from the patient in a biopsy to verify the existence and progression of the disease. An endoscopy is usually performed; it is a test that uses camera equipped tubes to visualize the upper respiratory and gastrointestinal tract. Biopsy samples are analyzed in a laboratory. If cancerous growth is detected, further tests are performed. Imaging tests may be performed to see the progress of the cancer and whether it has spread to other regions of body. These tests generally consist of CT (computed tomography) and MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scans. The CT scan generates a cross-sectional image of the patient which helps to locate the cancer; the cancer’s development status is observed. The test also helps physicians decide whether it is feasible to surgically remove the cancer. The MRI scans produce extremely detailed images; the MRI scanner picks-up on proton spins and their associated signals given off by the patients body. The MRI scan also generates cross-sectional images of the patient. All in all, throat cancer is easy to cure, however, early diagnosis is critical. If the cancer spreads or metastasizes to other gastrointestinal regions, extensive surgery is required which often alters the patient’s capacity to speak, swallow and so on.