Head and neck cancers are some of the fastest-rising cancers. They account for more than 66,000 cases per year in the U.S. and over 15,000 deaths. That includes cancers of the lips, mouth, throat, and voice box. Every person is different, with different factors influencing their risk of being diagnosed with one of these. CMC Ear, Nose, and Throat is recognizing Oral, Head, and Neck Cancer Awareness Week by sharing some signs of throat cancer that can save your life.
Neck and Throat Cancers
Throat cancer usually starts in the flat cells on the inside of your throat but can also develop on your tonsils, larynx (voice box), and epiglottis, which is the cartilage that closes your windpipe when you swallow. Throat cancer has many different names depending on where the cancer originates and what parts of the neck and throat it affects.
Some of the different types of throat cancer include:
- Oropharyngeal cancer – This type of cancer begins in the throat or the back of the mouth.
- Nasopharyngeal cancer – This type of cancer is found in the upper part of the throat located behind the nose.
- Laryngeal cancer – This begins in the voice box or larynx.
- Hypopharyngeal cancer – This type of cancer is found in the lower part of the throat near and behind the voice box.
Causes of throat cancer
Eighty-five percent of throat cancers can be directly linked to tobacco use. Drinking alcohol and using tobacco at the same time more than doubles the risk of developing head and neck cancer. Other factors include not eating enough fruits and vegetables, acid reflux, and HPV.
In the last decade, exposure to Human Papillomavirus (HPV), a common type of sexually transmitted disease, has become the most important risk factor for head and neck cancer. It is now well known that HPV has emerged as a leading cause of cancer of the tonsil and tongue, particularly in non-smokers and younger age groups. Over half of tonsil and base of tongue cancers are linked to HPV.
Symptoms that can indicate cancer
Many throat cancer symptoms mimic common conditions, such as allergies, colds, and sinus infections. Our ENT specialists at CMC Ear, Nose, and Throat can help to determine the exact cause of your problems. They recommend being vigilant of any of these symptoms:
- Lumps or sores on the neck
Not all neck masses are cancer. Other causes include strep throat, goiters, etc. Our ENT physicians will biopsy the mass to determine the cause.
- Chronic cough
Especially if you are coughing up blood.
- Hoarseness or other changes in your voice
Changes in voice quality are a potential sign of neck cancer. If you experience chronic voice problems, schedule an appointment today.
- Difficulty swallowing
Difficulty swallowing, known as the medical term dysphagia, feels like there is something stuck in your throat. This may lead to pain when swallowing and affect your ability to eat solid foods.
- Sore throat
Sore throats are very common in several conditions. However, if you experience a persistent sore throat that does not resolve with treatment, please schedule an appointment with us.
- Ear pain
The pain is not actually caused by something in your ear but due to the proximity to your throat. People often report feeling a painful sensation in the ear.
- Unexplained weight loss
If you experience a loss of weight (10 or more pounds) without any changes to your diet or exercise regime, this could be an indicator of cancer.
Our ENT specialists first attempt to rule out other, more common causes of your symptoms. They’ll examine your throat with a lighted scope and likely order a biopsy if an abnormality is spotted. They will use imaging tests, including X-rays, CT scans, MRIs, and PET scans, to determine if you have cancer and how far it has spread. Once diagnosed, a treatment plan can be pursued.
Statistics show that many patients with neck masses have a delay from discovery to diagnosis of three to six months. While this rate is better than it was 40 years ago, CMC Ear, Nose, and Throat believes that patients should get the diagnosis and evaluation they need as soon as possible so they may begin treatment in case the neck mass is cancerous.
If detected early, throat cancers have a cure rate of 90 percent. Cancer that has spread to surrounding tissues or lymph nodes is curable in 50 to 60 percent of patients. If you are experiencing any of the symptoms described above, we invite you to call 843-347-7300 schedule an appointment with one of our premier doctors at CMC Ear, Nose, and Throat today. We have the technologically advanced and compassionate care needed to determine the underlying cause of your issues and create a treatment plan that’s right for you.