Throat cancer includes any malignancy that affects the larynx, vocal cords, or other areas of the throat. It is one of the most widely diagnosed forms of the disease, with approximately 12,000 new cases of laryngeal and 13,000 new cases of pharyngeal cancer diagnosed annually.
Laryngeal cancer claims approximately 3,500 lives each year; pharyngeal cancer, 2,400. Nearly 90 percent of head and neck cancers are diagnosed as squamous cell carcinomas and appear as thin, flat, round cells on the affected area.
Patients who smoke or use other tobacco products carry the highest risk of developing throat cancer, with approximately 90 percent of patients diagnosed with a form of throat cancer admitting to tobacco usage. Smokers diagnosed with laryngeal cancer have a 20 percent higher mortality rate than nonsmokers with the same diagnosis.
Regular dental visits can detect any abnormalities within the oral cavity that may be a sign or symptom or laryngeal or pharyngeal cancer. Patients with a past history of cancer, or those with a family history of the disease, are also at a high risk of diagnosis.
Signs & Symptoms
Common symptoms of throat cancer include:
- Swollen lymph nodes in the neck
- Lump or lesion that develops in the neck or throat (may be painless)
- Persistent cough
- White or red patches that appear in the mouth
- Hoarse or scratchy speaking voice that does not go away
- Coughing up blood
- Sore throat that persists for more than 2 weeks (even with treatment)
- Difficulty swallowing
- Persistent headache or pain in the upper jaw
- Unexplained weight loss
If detected and treated early, patients can expect a full recovery. It is strongly advised that those who smoke cigarettes, pipes, or cigars, use other tobacco products (i.e., chewing tobacco) or consume large quantities of alcohol limit or stop their consumption in order to speed their recovery and prevent a recurrence.
Patients who are diagnosed with a late-stage form of throat cancer often experience lasting side effects from treatment, such as scarring on the larynx or windpipe from radiation burns or disfigurement from surgery to remove some or all of the malignancy.