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Throat or larynx cancer

Throat cancer is cancer of the vocal cords, voice box (larynx), or other areas of the throat.

Causes

People who smoke or use tobacco are at risk of developing throat cancer. Drinking too much alcohol over a long time also increases risk. Smoking and drinking alcohol combined lead to an increased risk of throat cancer.

Most throat cancers develop in adults older than 50. Men are 10 times more likely than women to develop throat cancers.

Cancer of the throat or larynxWatch this video about:Cancer of the throat or larynx

Symptoms

Symptoms of throat cancer include any of the following:

  • Abnormal (high-pitched) breathing sounds
  • Cough
  • Coughing up blood
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Hoarseness that does not get better in 1 to 2 weeks
  • Neck or ear pain
  • Sore throat that does not get better in 1 to 2 weeks, even with antibiotics
  • Swelling or lumps in the neck
  • Weight loss not due to dieting

Examsn and Tests

The doctor will perform a physical exam. This may show a lump on the outside of the neck.

The doctor may look in your throat or nose using a flexible tube with a small camera at the end.

Other tests that may ordered include:

Treatment

The goal of treatment is to completely remove the cancer and prevent it from spreading to other parts of the body.

When the tumor is small, either surgery or radiation therapy alone can be used to remove the tumor.

When the tumor is larger or has spread to lymph nodes in the neck, a combination of radiation and chemotherapy is often used to save the voice box (vocal cords). If this is not possible, the voice box is removed. This surgery is called laryngectomy.

Support Groups

You can ease the stress of illness by joining a cancer support group. Sharing with others who have common experiences and problems can help you not feel alone.

Outlook (Prognosis)

Throat cancers may be cured in when detected early. If the cancer has spread to surrounding tissues or lymph nodes in the neck, about half of patients can be cured. If the cancer has spread (metastasized) to parts of the body outside the head and neck, the cancer is not curable. Treatment is aimed at prolonging and improving quality of life.

After treatment, therapy is needed to help with speech and swallowing. If the person is not able to swallow, a feeding tube will be needed.

Possible Complications

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your health care provider if:

  • You have symptoms of throat cancer, especially hoarseness or a change in voice with no obvious cause that lasts longer than 3 weeks
  • You find a lump in your neck that does not go away in 3 weeks

Prevention

Do not smoke or use other tobacco. Limit or avoid alcohol use.

Alternative Names

Vocal cord cancer; Throat cancer; Laryngeal cancer; Cancer of the glottis; Cancer of oropharynx or hypopharynx

References

Armstrong WB, Vokes DE, Maisel RH. Malignant tumors of thelarynx. In: Flint PW, Haughey BH, Lund VJ, et al., eds. Cummings Otolaryngology Head and Neck Surgery. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier Mosby; 2010:chap 107.

National Cancer Institute: PDQ Laryngeal Cancer Treatment. Bethesda, Md: National Cancer Institute. Date last modified: February 15, 2013. Available at: http://cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/treatment/laryngeal/HealthProfessional. Accessed: February 3, 2014.

National Comprehensive Cancer Network. NCCN Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology (NCCN Guidelines): Head and neck cancers. Version 2.2013. Available at: http://www.nccn.org/professionals/physician_gls/pdf/head-and-neck.pdf. Accessed: February 3, 2014.

Update Date: 2/3/2014

Updated by: Ashutosh Kacker, MD, FACS, Professor of Clinical Otolaryngology, Weill Cornell Medical College, and Attending Otolaryngologist, New York-Presbyterian Hospital, New York, NY. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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