Throat Cancer: Symptoms & Signs

  • Medical Author:
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

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 or difficulty swallowing (dysphagia), and headache. Pain or ringing in the ears may occur in some cases. Bleeding can occur from some throat cancers. In advanced stages of throat cancer, symptoms like fatigue and unexplained weight loss may be present.

Causes of throat cancer

The exact cause of throat cancer is not clear. However, certain risk factors lead to an increased risk of throat cancer, such as cigarette smoking, human papillomavirus (HPV) infection, and exposure to toxic substances like asbestos or large quantities of alcohol. About 50%-90% of squamous cell carcinomas (the most common type of throat cancers), have been associated with HPV infections that can be acquired with oral sex. Other risk factors include male gender, African-American heritage, and poor dental hygiene.


United States. National Cancer Institute. "Throat (Laryngeal and Pharyngeal) Cancer." <>.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 4/16/2018

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