Throat Cancer Symptoms and Signs
Throat cancers may not cause any symptoms if they are very small and have not spread at the time of diagnosis. Sometimes, an area of irritation or discoloration on the lining issues of the throat is the only sign of an abnormality. Depending upon the extent of spread of the cancer, other symptoms can include:
- swelling of nearby tissues,
- enlarged lymph nodes,
- trouble breathing,
- difficulty speaking,
- neck or throat pain,
- ear pain,
- painful swallowing, and
Pain or ringing in the ears may occur in some cases. Bleeding can occur from some throat cancers.
Quick GuideUnderstanding Cancer: Metastasis, Stages of Cancer, Pictures
Throat cancer (larynx cancer) facts*
*Throat cancer (larynx cancer) facts medically edited by: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
- The larynx is the voice box located at the top of the windpipe (trachea).
- Cancer of the larynx occurs most often in people over the age of 55 years.
- People who stop smoking can greatly reduce their risk of cancer of the larynx.
- Painless hoarseness can be a symptom of cancer of the larynx.
- The larynx can be examined with a viewing tube called a laryngoscope.
- Treatment of cancer of the larynx depends on the location and size of the tumor as well as the age and health of the patient.
- Cancer of the larynx usually is treated with radiation therapy or surgery. Chemotherapy can also be used for cancers that have spread beyond the larynx.
What is throat (larynx) cancer?
Throat cancer is a general term that usually refers to cancer of the pharynx and/or larynx. Regions included when considering throat cancer include the nasopharynx, oropharynx, hypopharynx, glottis, supraglottis and subglottis; about half of throat cancers develop in the larynx and the other half in the pharynx. Consequently, any cancers (growth and/or spread of abnormal cells that form tumors or metastasize) that develop in these regions of the throat are considered throat cancers. For this article, the terms throat cancer and larynx cancer will be interchangeable. The term laryngeal cancer is also used to refer to larynx cancer.
Some investigators consider throat cancers a subset of esophageal cancers. For this article, only throat cancers will be discussed. Esophageal cancers include additional potential symptoms of burning or pain (pressure) in the throat and/or chest pain since they can extend from just below the pharynx to the junction of the esophagus and stomach. Moreover, esophageal cancers may include all of the throat cancer signs, symptoms, and most diagnostic and treatment protocols discussed in this article -- particularly when they are located high in the esophagus.
The American Cancer Society statistics suggest that about 13,430 new cases of laryngeal cancer will occur in 2016 (10,550 in men and 2,880 in women) with about 3,620 deaths. Five-year survival rates vary somewhat with the location of the cancer and its stage (see below). Most types have a five-year survival rate in stage I and/or II that range from about 53%-64% except for those that occur in the glottis (the part of the larynx including the vocal cords) which is about 74%-90%. Stages III-IV five-year survival varies from about 54%-24%, with stage IV having the lowest five-year survival rate.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 6/30/2016