- What Is It
The three main types of throat cancer are:
- Oropharyngeal cancer: Develops in the oropharynx area of the pharynx
- Laryngeal cancer: Forms in the larynx
- Hypopharyngeal cancer: Forms in the hypopharynx area of the pharynx
The throat is a small part of the body, which is a passageway for both the digestive and respiratory systems. The throat helps with:
The pharynx is behind the mouth and above the esophagus. The pharynx includes:
- The oropharynx: This includes the base of the tongue, the roof of the mouth (palate) and the tonsils.
- The nasopharynx: The superior part of the throat behind the nose, above the palate.
- The hypopharynx: Also known as the laryngopharynx, forms the base of the throat.
The larynx is made up of three parts:
- The glottis: Contains the vocal cord.
- The supraglottis: Is present above the vocal cords.
- The subglottis: Is present between the vocal cords and the trachea.
What is the first sign of throat cancer?
The early symptoms of throat cancer may be similar to a cold in the early stages (e.g., a persistent sore throat). Sore throat and hoarseness that persists for more than two weeks, should be immediately reported to a physician.
What does throat cancer feel like?
The advanced stage symptoms of throat cancer include:
- Difficulty swallowing
- Persistent cough
- Lump in the mouth, throat or neck
- Ear or jaw pain
- Difficulty breathing
- White patches or sores in the mouth
- Unexplained weight loss
- Bleeding in the mouth or nose
- Swelling of the eyes, jaw, throat or neck
- Throat discomfort
- Chronic sore throat
- Constant phlegm production
Throat cancer that has spread to distant parts of the body (metastatic cancer), leads to specific symptoms depending on the location:
What are the stages of throat cancer?
The staging system most often used for throat cancer is the TNM system of the American Joint Committee on Cancer (AJCC). In these staging systems, three key pieces of information are used:
- T (tumor): It refers to the size of the original tumor.
- N (node): It describes whether cancer has spread to the lymph nodes.
- M (metastasis): It refers to the spreading of cancer to other parts of the body.
A number (0-4) or the letter X is allocated to each factor. A higher number means the cancer is more advanced. For instance, a T1 score refers to a smaller tumor than a T2 score. The letter X indicates that the information could not be assessed.
The stages of throat cancer depend on the location where the tumor has started:
- Supraglottis (the area above the vocal cords)
- Glottis (the area that includes the vocal cords)
- Subglottis (the area below the vocal cords)
Table. Stages of throat cancer depending on its location
|The tumor is only in the top layer of cells lining the inside of the larynx or voice-box (Tis). Cancer has not spread to nearby lymph nodes (N0) or distant parts of the body (M0).||Same||
|The tumor has grown deeper into one part of the supraglottis (T1). Cancer has not spread to the nearby lymph nodes (N0) or distant parts of the body (M0).||The tumor is limited to the vocal cords, but it does not affect the movement of the cords (T1). Cancer has not spread to the nearby lymph nodes (N0) or distant parts of the body (M0)||The tumor is only in the subglottis (T1). Cancer has not spread to the nearby lymph nodes (N0) or distant parts of the body (M0).|
The tumor has grown deeper into more than one part of the supraglottis (or glottis). The vocal cord isn’t affected (T2).
Cancer has not spread to nearby lymph nodes (N0) or distant parts of the body (M0).
|The tumor has spread to the supraglottis and/or the subglottis. The tumor may also affect the movement of the vocal cord (T2). Cancer has not spread to nearby lymph nodes (N0) or distant parts of the body (M0).||The tumor has grown into the vocal cord that may or may not move normally (T2). Cancer has not spread to nearby lymph nodes (N0) or distant parts of the body (M0).|
|The tumor is still only in the larynx, but it has caused the vocal cord to stop moving (T3). Cancer has not spread to the nearby lymph nodes (N0) or to distant parts of the body (M0)||Same||Same|
N0 or N1
|The tumor has grown through the thyroid cartilage and/or is growing into tissues beyond the throat (T4a). Cancer has not spread to the nearby lymph nodes (N0), or it has spread to a single lymph node that is no larger than 3 centimeters across (N1). Cancer has not spread to distant parts of the body (M0).||The tumor has spread to the thyroid cartilage and/or the tissue beyond the larynx (T4a). Cancer has not spread to nearby lymph nodes (N0), or it has spread to a single lymph node on the same side of the neck as the tumor, which is no larger than 3 centimeters across (N1). Cancer has not spread to distant parts of the body (M0).||The tumor is growing through the cricoid or thyroid cartilage and/or into structures beyond the throat.|
|The tumor has spread to the area in front of the spine (prevertebral space), chest area or it encases the arteries (T4b). Cancer might or might not have spread to nearby lymph nodes (any N). It has not spread to distant parts of the body (M0).||Same||Same|
|The tumor might or might not have grown into structures outside the larynx, and it might or might not have affected a vocal cord (any T). Cancer might or might not have spread to nearby lymph nodes (any N). Cancer has spread to distant parts of the body (M1).||Same||Same|
How does a physician diagnose throat cancer?
Tests that are commonly performed by the physician to diagnose throat cancer are:
- Biopsy involves the removal of tissue to look for any cancerous cells.
- Imaging tests such as computed tomography (CT) scan, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), barium swallow or positron emission tomography (PET) can help in diagnosing throat cancer.
- Scoping procedures such as laryngoscopy, panendoscopy or laryngoscopy involve inserting an instrument (scope) into the mouth or nose to examine the throat.
How do you treat throat cancer?
Treatment of throat cancer involves:
- The specific type of cancer
- Location of cancer
- Stage of cancer
Treatment options for throat cancer include:
How do you manage the side effects of throat cancer treatment?
The side effects of throat cancer treatment may impact the quality of life. Supportive care helps manage symptoms and side effects:
- Pain management
- Nutritional support
- Mind-body support
- Spiritual support
American Cancer Society. Laryngeal Cancer Stages. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/laryngeal-and-hypopharyngeal-cancer/detection-diagnosis-staging/staging.html
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