Throat Cancer


What is 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.

Is throat cancer common?

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:

  • Laryngeal cancer: This is cancer in your voice box. This cancer affects more men than women. It typically affects people aged 55 and older. Laryngeal cancer can start in different parts of your larynx. Overall, between 46% and 72% of people diagnosed with some form of laryngeal cancer are alive five years after diagnosis.
  • Oropharyngeal cancer: This cancer affects the part of your throat that’s right behind your mouth. Twice as many men as women develop oropharyngeal cancer. It typically affects people aged 63 and older. About 50% of people diagnosed with oropharyngeal cancer are alive five years after diagnosis.

What are other throat cancer types?

  • Hypopharyngeal cancer: This cancer affects the part of your throat that’s just above your esophagus and windpipe.
  • Nasopharyngeal cancer: This is a rare type of throat cancer. It affects the part of your throat that’s just behind your nose.
  • Supraglottic cancer: This cancer starts in the upper part of your larynx. It can affect your epiglottis, the cartilage that keeps food from going into your windpipe. About 35% of all laryngeal cancers start in your supraglottis.
  • Glottic cancer: This is cancer in your vocal cords. Your vocal cords are in the middle part of your larynx. More than half of all laryngeal cancers start here.
  • Subglottic cancer: This cancer starts below your vocal cords in the lower part of your voice box. About 5% of all laryngeal cancers start here.

Symptoms and Causes

What are throat cancer symptoms?

Throat cancer includes several types of cancer that can affect different parts of your throat in different ways. Some common throat cancer symptoms include:

  • A sore throat that lasts for more than two weeks.
  • Pain or difficulty swallowing food (dysphagia).
  • Changes in your voice, like hoarseness, that last more than two weeks.
  • Lumps in the back of your throat or mouth.
  • Lumps in your neck, including the back of your neck.
  • Ear pain that lasts more than two weeks.

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.

How would I know if I had throat cancer?

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.

What is the main cause of throat cancer?

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:

  • You smoke or use tobacco products (including chewing tobacco and snuff) now or you used to smoke tobacco or use tobacco products. Using tobacco is the single largest risk factor for developing head and neck cancer, including throat cancer.
  • You drink more than a moderate amount of alcohol. Researchers link laryngeal and pharyngeal cancer to frequent and heavy consumption of alcohol.
  • You have a specific type of sexually transmitted infection called human papillomavirus (HPV).

Does HPV cause 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.

Diagnosis and Tests

How do healthcare providers diagnose 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:

  • Physical examination: Your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms and any activities that may increase your risk of developing throat cancer.
  • Laryngoscopy: These are tests that allow your healthcare provider to look at your throat. They may do a direct laryngoscopy so they can examine your throat in more detail, as well as the area behind your nose. This is a scope procedure done by your healthcare provider.
  • Pharyngoscopy: Your healthcare provider may do this test to diagnose oropharyngeal cancer. This is a scope procedure done by your healthcare provider.
  • Computed tomography (CT) scan: This test makes detailed images of your throat. Your healthcare provider may use this imaging test to diagnose oropharyngeal or laryngeal cancer.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan: This test uses radio waves and a magnet to create images of your throat.
  • Positron emission tomography (PET) scan: Healthcare providers use this test to look for signs that cancer has spread.
  • Endoscopic biopsy: Your healthcare provider may do this test to obtain tissue samples.

Management and Treatment

How do healthcare providers treat throat cancer?

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. Here’s information on treatment options for laryngeal and oropharyngeal cancer:

Laryngeal cancerSurgery: Healthcare providers may use any of several surgical procedures to treat laryngeal cancer. Surgery is intended to remove as much cancer as possible while preserving your larynx and your ability to speak and swallow.
Radiation therapy: Healthcare providers may use radiation therapy to treat smaller tumors or before and after surgery.
Chemotherapy: Healthcare providers may combine chemotherapy with radiation therapy. They may also use chemotherapy before or after surgery.
Targeted therapy: Targeted therapy focuses on proteins in cancer cells that help the cells to grow and multiply. This treatment kills cancer cells and/or slows their growth.
Immunotherapy: This treatment protects your immune system’s response to cancer.
Oropharyngeal cancer Radiation therapy: Healthcare providers may use radiation as a stand-alone treatment, in combination with chemotherapy or before or after surgery.
Chemotherapy: Healthcare providers may use chemotherapy before or after surgery. They may combine chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
Targeted therapy: This treatment targets proteins in cancer cells that help the cells grow and multiply.
Immunotherapy: This treatment helps your immune system find and kill cancer cells.


Can I reduce my risk of developing throat cancer?

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:

  • Not smoking cigarettes or using any tobacco products. If you smoke or use tobacco products, ask your healthcare provider about smoking cessation programs.
  • Drinking alcohol in moderation.
  • Getting the HPV vaccine and avoiding HPV infections. People who have a specific HPV type are more likely to develop oropharyngeal cancer.
  • Develop healthy eating habits. Researchers have linked laryngeal cancer to poor nutrition, having obesity and vitamin deficiency. A diet rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains and lean protein may help reduce your risk of developing laryngeal cancer.

Outlook / Prognosis

Is throat cancer curable?

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.

Living With

How do I take care of myself after throat cancer treatment?

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.


  • American Cancer Society. Living as a Laryngeal or Hypopharyngeal Cancer Survivor. ( Accessed 5/20/2022.
  • American Society of Clinical Oncology. Head and Neck Cancer: Risk Factors and Prevention. ( Accessed 5/20/2022.
  • Merck Manuals. Mouth and Throat Cancer. (,-nose,-and-throat-disorders/mouth,-nose,-and-throat-cancers/mouth-and-throat-cancer) Accessed 5/20/2022.
  • National Cancer Institute. Laryngeal Cancer Treatment. ( Accessed 5/20/2022.
  • Oropharyngeal Cancer Treatment. ( Accessed 5/20/2022.
  • Throat Cancer Foundation. Recovery and Follow-Up Care. ( Accessed 5/20/2022.

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