Throat cancer symptoms can vary based on where in the throat the cancer is located, as well as how advanced the cancer is. Symptoms can be similar to those of other common diseases, which is why you need a medical diagnosis if you have any concerning symptoms.

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Throat cancer includes various types of head and neck cancers, including cancers of the:

  • oropharynx (middle of the throat)
  • hypopharynx (bottom of the throat)
  • nasopharynx (upper throat, behind your nose)
  • larynx (voice box)

Some of the symptoms of throat cancer, such as a hoarse voice or throat pain, are common to numerous health conditions and are experienced by many people. As such, some people may suspect that they have throat cancer based on their symptoms alone.

But it’s not possible to check for throat cancer at home. You must see a trained medical professional if you’re concerned that you may have symptoms of throat cancer.

Why self-diagnosis is dangerous

The internet is full of health information, with over 100,000 websites giving out health advice. In fact, according to a 2020 study, searching for health information is the third most common reason that people use the internet.

The problem is that anyone can post an article on the internet, and it’s not always possible to verify whether the information is accurate or trustworthy. In general, it’s best to get health information from websites that are carefully reviewed by medical experts.

Even if the online health information is credible, it can be difficult to interpret information and apply it to your specific health situation.

Only a highly skilled medical professional can diagnose you with a health condition, and that’s only after examining you, taking your health history, running diagnostic tests, and ruling out other possible causes.

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Throat cancer symptoms will vary based on where in the throat the cancer is located, as well as how advanced the cancer is.

Some potential throat cancer symptoms include:

People often wonder which throat cancer symptom comes first. Again, it depends on the type of cancer you have. When it comes to laryngeal and hypopharyngeal cancers, changes in your voice, such as hoarseness that lasts for more than 2 weeks, is an early sign.

Many of the symptoms of throat cancer resemble other less serious conditions. In most cases, your symptoms won’t end up being throat cancer. Still, any new symptoms you experience should be brought to your doctor’s attention.

The earlier throat cancer is treated, the more favorable the outcome.

Risk factors

Certain factors may increase your risk of developing throat cancer:

  • smoking tobacco
  • drinking alcohol moderately or heavily
  • having human papillomavirus (HPV) (increases risk of oropharynx cancer)
  • being overweight
  • having a family history of throat cancer
  • being exposed to certain environmental factors
  • being over the age of 65

Smoking combined with moderate or heavy drinking is the greatest risk factor for developing throat cancer.

Cancer needs to be diagnosed by a medical doctor and involves several types of diagnostic tests. You shouldn’t hesitate to reach out to your doctor with any concerning symptoms, as the earlier cancer is caught, the easier it is to treat.

Getting a diagnosis for throat cancer will depend on the type of symptoms you have, but testing usually involves the following:

  • a thorough medical history and physical exam, with special attention on the areas around your neck, head, and lymph nodes
  • a referral to an ear, nose, and throat doctor (ENT), a physician who specializes in conditions affecting the neck and head
  • laryngoscopy, which involves a thin, flexible tube that goes in your nose and down your throat to view your throat area
  • a biopsy, where tissue from a suspected tumor is extracted and then carefully examined in a lab for cancerous cells
  • CAT scans, MRIs, X-rays, and PET scans to look inside the body to see if there are tumors in certain areas or to see if cancer has spread

There are five stages of throat cancer, starting with stage 0 and ending with stage 4. The stages refer to how much cancer is in your body and how far it has spread.

Stage 0 is referred to as carcinoma in situ (CIS), and means that precancerous cells were found.

Stage 1 is the first stage of throat cancer, and it means that the cancer is localized to the particular area where it began, such as your upper, middle, or lower throat, or your voice box. It has not yet spread to the lymph nodes or to other parts of the body.

Cancer is easier to manage and treat when it is in the earlier stages and hasn’t spread to the lymph nodes or other parts of your body. Again, this is why you should see your doctor if you have any persistent symptoms that you’re concerned about.

The treatment plan for throat cancer will depend on the type of throat cancer you have, your overall health, and how far the cancer has spread. Some of the most common treatments for throat cancer include:

  • surgery to remove the cancerous growth or tumors
  • radiation therapy, which uses high intensity X-ray beams to kill cancer cells
  • chemotherapy, which uses anticancer medications to kill cancer cells
  • targeted therapy, which uses medication that targets proteins that cause cancer cells to divide and multiply

Throat cancers are cancers that affect different parts of your throat and voice box. They are most often caused by smoking, but other factors can contribute, including genetic factors and lifestyle choices.

Symptoms of throat cancer can resemble other common diseases, and many people suspect that they have throat cancer when they don’t.

You can’t check for throat cancer at home. If you have any unusual symptoms that don’t go away, it’s important to make an appointment with a healthcare professional.