If I Had Throat Cancer, How Would I Know?

ENT doctor looking for symptoms of throat cancer.

It’s not possible to self-diagnose cancer. But you might worry about it; you wouldn’t be the first person to lose some sleep considering whether your sore throat is caused by allergies or something more serious.

The fact is that only a physician will be able to correctly diagnose your symptoms. If you think you may be going through the early symptoms of throat cancer, it’s essential to schedule an appointment.

Throat cancer, what is it?

There are a whole range of cancers that can develop in the throat and they are all considered throat cancer.

Most of these cancers have some similarities. There are narrow, flat cells that line your throat called squamous cells. Typically, throat cancers will start in these cells, and the resultant cancer becomes referred to as a squamous cell carcinoma.

There are two kinds of these cancers:

  • Pharyngeal cancer: These cancers begin in your pharynx. Essentially, this is the tissue behind your mouth, into your throat, and behind your nose.
  • Laryngeal cancer: This form is not as common. It’s a cancer of your voice box or larynx.

Types of pharyngeal cancer

Depending on the location, pharyngeal cancer is divided into three kinds:

Hypopharyngeal: This kind of cancer starts in the lower throat.

Oropharyngeal: The starting place of this cancer is the middle of the throat (as the syllable “oro” implies) and behind the tongue including parts of the roof of the mouth. This form of pharyngeal cancer is the most prevalent.

Nasopharyngeal: This cancer begins near the top of your throat, just behind the nose.

Some throat cancer symptoms

Your doctor will be able to tell you the principal differences between all of these cancers and what they could mean in terms of treatment and prognosis. But you may be wondering how symptoms manifest and what they might disclose, particularly if you’re at the point where you’re considering scheduling an appointment. The possible symptoms of throat cancer could include:

  • Persistent difficulty swallowing.
  • Tinnitus in one ear.
  • Pain behind your nose or in your throat.
  • Swollen lymph nodes in the neck.
  • A mass in your neck.
  • Persistently sore throat.
  • Chronic ear infections.
  • White or red patches in your throat.
  • Hearing loss in one ear.
  • Hoarse voice, particularly if it’s chronic.

Throat cancer risk factors

Of course, these symptoms could be a result of several other common ailments.

Hearing loss and tinnitus, for example, are very common symptoms of ailments that have nothing to do with cancer.

That’s why it’s helpful to look at risk factors while you’re thinking about symptoms. Your chance of developing throat cancer significantly increases by the following:

  • Smoking tobacco or using chewing tobacco: Throat cancer (and other cancers) have been associated with these activities.
  • Malnutrition or poor nutrition.
  • Acid reflux, or a form of acid reflux known as GERD.
  • Substantial alcohol use.
  • HPV (human papillomavirus) infections.

The occurrence of these risk factors or a family history of throat cancer can be a strong indication that you should get checked out.

Diagnosing throat cancer

Physicians can use one of several approaches to help diagnose a potential throat cancer. We may biopsy questionable tissue or order imaging scans of various kinds (like X-Rays or CT scans). In some cases, we need to get a better look in your throat so an endoscopy will be done. (General anesthesia is sometimes used when an endoscopy is required.)

In your particular situation, we will be able to determine which tests will be required.

What happens after diagnosis?

Depending on what we uncover, a number of things might happen. Tissue that you thought was suspect, in many instances, will turn out to be benign. In other situations, we may find something more serious.

If it turns out you are diagnosed with throat cancer, early detection is critical. Some types of throat cancer have a relatively good 5-year survival rate, so treatment can save your life.

But the earlier you diagnose throat cancer, the higher the chance of a positive outcome. So make an appointment right away if you think that you or someone you love might be experiencing the symptoms of throat cancer.

The site information is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. To receive personalized advice or treatment, schedule an appointment.

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