Overview

Throat cancer occurs when cancer cells develop in the throat (pharynx) or voice box (larynx).

The throat (pharynx) is the muscular tube located behind the nose, down to the back of the neck. The flat cells lining inside of the throat is where the cancer cells normally begin.
Pharynx consists of three parts: the nasopharynx (the upper part of the throat behind the nose), the oropharynx (the middle part), and the laryngopharynx, also known as the hypopharynx (the lower part).

The voice box (larynx) is the vocal cords that vibrates and make sounds when the person speak, it is located below the throat, and there is a possibility it could be affected by the cancer of the throat. The voice box (larynx) also consists of three parts: the supraglottic (the upper part), the glottic (the middle part), and the subglottic (the lower part).

Different types of throat cancer

The different types of cancers are depending on the location of the origin of the cancer. They are as follows:

  • Nasopharyngeal cancer: It originates in the nasopharynx and affects the tissue that connects the back of your nose to the back of your mouth.
  • Oropharyngeal cancer: It originates in the oropharynx and it affects the middle part of your throat (pharynx) just beyond your mouth, including the base of tongue, tonsils, the soft palate, and the side walls of your throat.
  • Hypopharyngeal cancer or laryngopharyngeal cancer originates in the hypopharynx (or laryngopharynx) and it affects the lower part of the throat, just behind the voice box.
  • Laryngeal cancer originates at the larynx and it affects the voice box (larynx).

Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of throat cancer are as follows:

  • Throat pain
  • Persistent sore throat
  • Cough / Coughing up blood
  • Voice changes, such as voice hoarseness
  • Dysphagia (swallowing difficulties)
  • Ear pain
  • Lumps in the neck or throat
  • Unexplained weight loss

If you notice any signs and symptoms that are persistent then you could make an appointment with your doctor. Investigation may be recommended due to that throat cancer symptoms are not specific.

Causes

The genetic mutation of cells in the throat causes the cells to grow uncontrollably. The cancer cells will keep on living while the healthy cells will die. Continuous multiplication of cancer cells will eventually create a tumor in the throat.

Cause of mutation have not yet determined by the specialists, but risk factors had been identified that increase the risk of having a throat cancer.

Risk factors

Factors that may increase throat cancer risk include:

  • Smoking or tobacco use (chewing tobacco and snuff)
  • Excessive alcohol consumption
  • Viral infections: Human Papillomavirus (HPV) and Epstein-Barr virus (EBV)
  • Poor diet
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • Exposure to toxic substances
  • Family history of cancer