Causes, Symptoms, Treatment & Tests For Throat Cancer

Submitted on March 27, 2012

Throat cancer refers to the cancer that affects your throat, tonsils as well as your voice box. Cancerous tumors can be found in any one of the above mentioned areas. The voice box is located just below the throat while the tonsils are located at the back of the throat. Throat cancer is also referred to as the cancer that is formed in the tissues of the larynx. Throat cancer is also known as laryngeal cancer, cancer of the glottis, cancer of the pharynx, or vocal cord cancer. There are different types of throat cancer, which are described below:-

  • Glottic cancer - this type of cancer begins in the vocal cords.
  • Subglottic cancer - this type of cancer starts in the lower portion of the voice box.
  • Supraglottic cancer - this cancer starts in the upper part of the larynx
  • Oropharyngeal cancer - the cancer is known to start in the oropharynx
  • Hypopharyngeal cancer or laryngopharyngeal cancer - this type of throat cancer starts in the area just above the windpipe and esophagus.

Tests Recommended

Various throat cancer tests may be carried out for a proper and correct diagnosis of throat cancer. These throat cancer tests include an endoscopic exam, imaging tests (like X-ray, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), computerized tomography (CT) scans, and positron emission tomography (PET)) and a biopsy of a tissue sample as well.


One cannot point out the exact specific cause of throat cancer. However there are many risk factors that could cause throat cancer. Some of the well known throat cancer causes are:-

  • Smoking: Tobacco is the most common cause for throat cancer. Smokers are at a higher risk for throat cancer than non smokers. Passive smokers may get throat cancer as well.
  • Alcohol: Excessive drinking of alcohol also leads to throat cancer.
  • HPV: HPV or Human pappillomavirus is a sexually transmitted virus that also causes throat cancer.
  • Exposure to chemicals: Exposure to the harmful chemicals used in manufacturing industries could increase the possibility of throat cancer.
  • Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD): This is another cause of throat cancer
  • A poor diet has also been linked to throat cancer.


Now that we have covered the basics of throat cancer as also the causes, let us take a look at the various throat cancer symptoms that should prompt you to get a check-up done. Remember that the earlier the symptoms are caught and the cancer diagnosed, the better the chances of it getting cured. Throat cancer may not be as common as other cancers, but patients have a better survival rate with throat cancer than with other types of cancers. However, some of the early throat cancer symptoms are general and can therefore be mistaken for other illnesses. If the symptoms do not disappear and are persistent, then the doctor may suspect throat cancer. Generally, early throat cancer symptoms include the following:-

  • Changes in one's voice - such as a hoarseness of voice
  • Difficulty in swallowing
  • A persistent sore throat
  • Pain in the ear - that is continual
  • Weight loss
  • A cough - that is not cured by the usual antibiotics
  • Pain or swelling in the jaw
  • Small nodules in the neck region
  • Unexplained pain, numbness or bleeding inside the mouth
  • A palpable lump in the throat - this could indicate cancer but could also be indicative of other diseases like thyroid or goiter. While palpitating the lump, one may notice that it is hard, movable and has an irregular shape. As the cancer however grows, the lump fixes itself to an organ and becomes immovable.

Chronic symptoms of throat cancer may include breathing difficulty, loss of voice or speech, skin deformities and acute pain in swallowing. Bleeding from the nose and throat could be due to the presence of a tumor. A headache and pain in the upper teeth is due to the spreading of the cancer cells. Facial palsy may also occur due to the spread of these malignant cells.


Various factors must be taken into account before starting any form of throat cancer treatment. The keys factors that must be noted are the location of the cancer, the stage of development, the type of tumor as well as the extent the cancer has spread. The patient's overall health and his/her requests should also be considered before starting throat cancer treatment. The most common form of throat cancer treatment is radiation and surgery. With surgery, it is possible to remove small tumors in the early stages of throat cancer as well as medium or large tumors which occur in the later stages of throat cancer. Small tumors can be removed surgically and the patient will have very few side effects. If however, the tumors are large and spread to other areas as well, the surgery may include removing parts of the patient's mouth, jaw, voice box or throat. The ability to chew, breath, swallow and speak is affected after such a surgery. Another form of throat cancer treatment is chemotherapy. This entails using drugs to kill the cancer cells. Chemotherapy is often used along with radiation therapy to kill the cancerous cells.