Throat cancer is the general term for cancer that affects one or more parts of your throat. Usually, people who have throat cancer have cancer in their larynx (voice box) or their oropharynx (the middle part of their throat.) Healthcare providers typically use surgery to treat throat cancer.
Throat cancer is the general term for cancer that affects one or more parts of your throat. Usually, people who have throat cancer have cancer in their larynx (voice box) or their oropharynx (the middle part of their throat). Healthcare providers typically use surgery to treat throat cancer. The specific surgery depends on the type of throat cancer, location and whether it has spread.
There are several types of throat cancer. The two most common throat cancer types are laryngeal cancer and oropharyngeal cancer. Laryngeal cancer affects your larynx (voice box). Oropharyngeal cancer affects the middle part of your throat. In 2022, about 54,000 people were expected to be diagnosed with oropharyngeal cancer and about 12,000 people were expected to be diagnosed with laryngeal cancer. (For comparison, about 290,560 women and men were expected to be diagnosed with breast cancer.) Here is more information about these two common throat cancer types:
Throat cancer includes several types of cancer that can affect different parts of your throat in different ways. Some common throat cancer symptoms include:
Having these symptoms doesn’t mean you have throat cancer. Many times, these symptoms are signs of other less serious conditions. If you have a symptom that lasts two weeks or more, talk to your healthcare provider so they can find out what’s causing it.
Your healthcare provider is your best source of information about throat cancer. That’s because many throat cancer symptoms are similar to other less serious conditions. That said, hoarseness that doesn’t go away within two weeks may be an early symptom of laryngeal cancer. Other common throat cancer symptoms are sore throat or trouble swallowing food that lasts two weeks or more.
Throat cancer happens when something triggers changes in the genetic makeup of cells in your throat. This change turns healthy throat cells into cancerous cells that grow and multiply. Researchers are investigating what triggers this change. But they’ve linked throat cancer to some activities and medical conditions that increase your risk of developing some form of throat cancer:
Yes, there are types of HPV that can cause oropharyngeal cancer. This HPV type is called oropharyngeal HPV. Approximately 1% of men and women have the HPV infection that causes throat cancer. Most adults are exposed to HPV at some point in their lives, but some people’s bodies aren’t able to fully get rid of the virus. Scientists are working on researching why some people aren’t able to get rid of the virus, which can lead to the development of throat cancer.
Healthcare providers use several tests to diagnose laryngeal and oropharyngeal cancer. Tests they use to diagnose one or both of these conditions include:
Healthcare providers may use several different therapies to treat the most common forms of throat cancer. If you smoke or use tobacco, they may recommend you stop before treatments, including surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, to help your treatment be more effective and limit side effects.
There’s no sure way to avoid throat cancer. But people who use tobacco, regularly drink significant amounts of alcohol or have specific HPV infections are more likely to develop this condition. You can reduce your risk by:
Healthcare providers may be able to cure throat cancer that hasn’t spread to nearby tissues or your lymph nodes. Cancer that hasn’t spread is called localized cancer. Between 52% and 83% of people with all types of localized laryngeal cancer are alive five years after diagnosis. About 62% of people diagnosed with localized oropharyngeal cancer are alive five years after diagnosis.
If you’ve been treated for laryngeal cancer, you may need help managing the long-term effects of treatment. For example, both radiation therapy and surgery can affect your ability to swallow, speak or hear. If that’s your situation, your healthcare provider can identify programs and services to help you.
There’s a chance laryngeal or oropharyngeal cancer can come back (recur). You’ll probably have follow-up appointments every few months the year after your treatment so your healthcare provider can check on your overall health and for signs that cancer has come back or you’ve developed another type of cancer.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Throat cancer treatment often includes surgery that can affect your quality of life long after you’ve finished your treatment. You may need help with everyday essential activities like eating and speaking. Your healthcare providers understand all the ways that throat cancer can change your life. Never hesitate to ask for help. Your healthcare providers will be glad to do all they can as you learn how to adapt to a new way of living.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 05/20/2022.
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