Most throat cancers are squamous cell carcinomas—thin, flat, cells that appear somewhere in the tissue of the throat.
Patients who smoke cigarettes, pipes, or cigars, use chewing tobacco, or drink excessively run the highest risk of developing throat cancer. Throat cancers claim the lives of over 5,000 patients annually.
Medical professionals diagnose throat cancers through any of the following tests:
- Physical exam: Physician will do a thorough work-up and check for any lumps, lesions, or other abnormalities in the throat.
- Endoscopy: In this procedure, the physician will do a closer examination of the throat with an endoscope, a thin lighted tube that is inserted into the nose or throat to detect any abnormalities. The physician may collect a tissue sample for further examination.
- MRI scan: The MRI uses magnets, radio waves, and a computer to take detailed pictures of the inside of the body. Any abnormalities will stand out on the computer screen, allowing the physician to determine the best course of treatment based on the mass’ location, size, and stage.
- X-rays: Head, neck, or chest x-rays can detect abnormal masses.
- Barium esophagogram: Patient drinks a liquid containing barium, a liquid that coats the esophagus and causes any abnormalities to stand out in an x-ray.
- Esophagoscopy: An esophagoscope, a thin lighted tube, is inserted into the nose or throat to locate any abnormalities in the throat.
- Bronchoscopy: A procedure that provides a closer examination of the trachea by inserting a bronchoscope, a thin lighted tube, into the nose or throat to identify any abnormalities.
- Biopsy:A tissue sample is collected and examined under a microscope to identify any abnormalities.
Depending on the size, location, and stage of the malignancy, any or all of the following treatment options may be used:
- Surgery: A laryngopharyngectomy is a procedure in which the larynx and/or part of the throat is removed. In a partial laryngopharyngectomy, a portion of the larynx and pharynx are removed and the patient is still able to speak. A neck dissection removes the lymph nodes and other tissue in the neck.
- Radiation therapy: Radiation is commonly prescribed following surgery to kill any lingering cancer cells. It has found to be especially effective for patients who have stopped smoking prior to surgery.
- Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy is sometimes prescribed to shrink the mass prior to surgery or radiation.