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Throat cancer – Symptoms, Types, Causes

Throat cancer develops in the throat

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Throat cancer refers to cancer that develops in your throat (pharynx) or voice box (larynx).

Your throat is a muscular tube that begins behind your nose and ends in your neck. Throat cancer most often begins in the flat cells that line the inside of your throat.

Your voice box sits just below your throat and also is susceptible to throat cancer. The voice box is made of cartilage and contains the vocal cords that vibrate to make the sound when you talk.

Types of throat cancer

Throat cancer is a general term that applies to cancer that develops in the throat (pharyngeal cancer) or in the voice box (laryngeal cancer).

Though most throat cancers involve the same types of cells, specific terms are used to differentiate the part of the throat where cancer originated.

  • Nasopharyngeal cancer begins in the nasopharynx the part of your throat just behind your nose.
  • Oropharyngeal cancer begins in the oropharynx the part of your throat right behind your mouth that includes your tonsils.
  • Hypopharyngeal cancer (laryngopharyngeal cancer) begins in the hypopharynx (laryngopharynx)  the lower part of your throat, just above your oesophagus and windpipe.
  • Glottic cancer begins in the vocal cords.
  • Supraglottic cancer begins in the upper portion of the voice box and includes cancer that affects the epiglottis, which is a piece of cartilage that blocks food from going into your windpipe.
  • Subglottic cancer begins in the lower portion of your voice box, below your vocal cords.

Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of throat cancer may include:

  • A cough
  • Changes in your voice, such as hoarseness or not speaking clearly
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Ear pain
  • A lump or sore that doesn’t heal
  • A sore throat
  • Weight loss

When to see a doctor

Make an appointment with your doctor if you notice any new signs and symptoms that are persistent.

Most throat cancer symptoms aren’t specific to cancer, so your doctor will likely investigate other more common causes first.

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