Throat Cancer

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Throat cancer is a part of series of cancer that belong to Head and neck region. Throat anatomically includes, pharynx and larynx. Pharynx which is the hollow tube inside the neck that starts behind the nose and ends at the top of the windpipe and esophagus and has 3 parts namely

  • Nasopharynx which is the upper part of the throat behind the nose,
  • Oropharynx which is the middle part of the pharynx
  • Hhypopharynx is the bottom part of the pharynx

Larynx also called voice box has 3 parts as well:

  • Lotti which is the middle portion that contains the vocal cords
  • Supraglottis which is the area above the vocal cords
  • Subglottis which is he area below the vocal cords and above the trachea (windpipe)

Throat Cancer

Around 38000 Americans were affected by throat cancer in 2011. Early-stage head and neck cancers (especially laryngeal and oral cavity) are found to have high cure rates, up to 50% of head and neck cancer patients present with advanced disease have seen the regression in cancer. [1]

Signs and symptoms of Throat Cancer

People may not necessarily notice early indications, but they night include:

  • Chronic sore throat
  • Pain or difficulty in swallowing, dysphagia
  • Swelling of the jaw
  • Hoarseness or other change in the voice(larynx)
  • Lump or sore that won’t heal
  • Weight loss

Detection of throat cancer usually takes a while as they don’t have specific symptoms and doctors usually investigate other causes for sore throat or lump before jumping on to cancer. [2]

Risk Factors of Throat Cancer

Tobacco and alcohol use, contribute to being the leading cause of throat cancer in modern times. Dietary loss of fruits and vegetables, HPV (Human Papilloma virus), GERD( gastro oesophageal reflux disease) and  EBV(epstein-barr virus) are other factors. [3]

Tests and Diagnosis of Throat Cancer

Most of the cancers are found in routine dental examination. A further discussion with patient about some existing symptoms can make your dentist refer you to a doctor for further investigation.

Using an endoscope to look into your throat is the gold standard for step 1 when investigating throat cancer. If any doubt, then tissue samples are obtained during scope examination called biopsy and are sent to pathologist for further investigation. Various imaging techniques like CT (computed tomography), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and positron emission tomography (PET) may be used to determine the extent. [4]

Treatment of Throat Cancer

After biopsy, staging is done in order for your doctor to determine the best option of treatment for you.

The basic 3 treatment options that your doctor might suggest depending on the extent and your general health are:

  • Surgery: It may include removal using endoscope in early stage cancers, laryngectomy which is removal of a part of voice box that is affected by cancer, removal or small part of throat exhibiting cancerous growth and removal of nearby affected tissue and lymph nodes if any.
  • Radiotherapy: Using high energy beams directed at cancer, aiming to kill any kind of cancerous cells persisting after surgery
  • Chemotherapy: Usage of drugs to kill cancerous cells and can be used in combination with radiotherapy as well.

Drugs can also be used for the treatment like Cetuximab (Erbitux) that is a targeted therapy approved for treating throat cancer in certain situations. It stops the action of a protein that’s found in many types of healthy cells, but is more prevalent in certain types of throat cancer cells and hence able to target throat cancer specifically. [5]



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