The causes of throat cancer and its symptoms are what everybody should know. Throat cancer refers to cancers that develop in the pharynx (throat) or larynx (voice box). It can also refer to cancers that develop in the oesophagus (food pipe) or thyroid. But the two main types of cancer that are referred to as throat cancer are pharyngeal cancer and laryngeal cancer. These cancers affect the pharynx and the larynx.
The throat is made up of a muscular tube that begins behind the nose and ends in the neck. Often times throat cancers develop in the flat cells that line the inside of the throat; these are the organs that help us swallow and breathe.
The voice box is located just below the throat, this makes it susceptible to throat cancer. The voice box, which is the organ that helps us talk, contains the vocal cords that vibrate to make a sound when we speak.
Different Location of Throat Cancer
Although most throat cancers involve the same types of cells, there are specific terms used to differentiate the part of the throat where cancer originates.
Nasopharyngeal cancer begins in the nasopharynx, the part of the
throat located just behind the nose.
Oropharyngeal cancer develops in the oropharynx, the part of the throat located just behind the mouth, this includes the tonsils. This cancer often grows in the tonsils, the back of the tongue or the soft palate.
Hypopharyngeal cancer (laryngopharyngeal cancer) is cancer that begins in the
hypopharynx (laryngopharynx) the narrow area just behind the voice box; that is the lower part of the throat, just above the oesophagus and windpipe.
Cancer can grow in any of the three parts of the voice box. Glottis, supraglottis and subglottis.
Glottis holds the vocal cords. Cancer begins in the vocal cords.
Supraglottis is the area just above the glottis; here cancer begins in the upper part of the voice box and can affect the epiglottis. The epiglottis is a piece of cartilage that prevents food from going into the windpipe.
Subglottis is located between the vocal cords and the windpipe. Cancer here begins in the lower part of the voice box just below the vocal cords.
Throat Cancer Symptoms
In the onset of throat cancer, there are signs and symptoms to look out for. Although there is a need to see a doctor ascertain that it is cancer. This is because throat cancer symptoms are not specific to throat cancer alone.
An individual experiencing the onset of throat cancer may experience any of these symptoms:
- Changes in the voice such as cracking or hoarseness
- Trouble swallowing or breathing
- Persistent Earache
- Persistent sore throat or cough
- Coughing up blood
- Throat pain
- Lump in the throat or neck
- Unexplained weight loss
- If symptoms last for more than just a few weeks, pay a visit to the doctor.
Causes of Throat Cancer
Throat cancer occurs when the cells in the throat develop genetic mutations. Mutated cells grow and multiply uncontrollably and continue to live even after the death of healthy cells.
It has not been ascertained what causes the mutation of cells that cause throat cancers but doctors have identified risk factors that increase the chances of developing throat cancer.
Long Term Use of Tobacco
One of the causes of throat cancer is Smoking or chewing tobaccos. They are the biggest factors causing head and neck cancers and this includes throat cancer. If you smoke, quit. If you chew tobacco, stop, and if you don’t smoke please don’t start.
Also don’t make yourself a secondary smoker, by regularly hanging around places where tobacco is been smoked.
Heavy And Regular Drinking
Heavy drinking here means drinking more than two drinks of alcohol a day for men and drinking more than one drink of alcohol a day for women. The risk becomes higher when one is in the habit of both drinking and smoking.
A diet Lacking in Fruits And Vegetables
Regular consumption of fruits and vegetable go a long way in protecting the throat from free radicals. Vitamins and antioxidants contained in fruits and vegetables may help reduce the risk of throat cancer. The trick here is to eat a healthy diet containing a variety of colourful fruits and vegetables.
Human Papilloma Virus (HPV)
The sexually transmitted infection, the human papillomavirus has been linked to throat cancer, especially cancer in the back of the throat. It is also linked to tongue cancer and tonsil cancer.
To reduce the risk of getting infected by HPV, it is advised to limit the number of sexual partners and to always use a condom.
Also getting the HPV vaccine can reduce the risk of getting infected with the virus and this, in turn, can reduce the risk of throat cancer and other HPV related cancer.
Additionally ensuring that children between the ages of 11 and 12 start the series of HPV vaccines. This can protect them in the future from contracting HPV and reduce the risk of developing HPV related cancers, including throat cancers.
Exposure to Toxic Substances
Exposure to toxic substances is one of the causes of throat cancer. Toxic substance exposure here includes exposure to asbestos, sulfuric acid fumes and nickel.
It is noteworthy that gender and race are risk factors for throat cancer. Men are said to be five times more likely to develop throat cancer than women. Also African and African-American men are at the most risk of developing throat cancer.
So take care of yourself, quit smoking, drink responsibly, fill your plates with fruits and vegetables. Remember to see your doctor if you have any of the above-mentioned symptoms for more than just a few weeks.
A Cancer Council Australia “Understanding Head and Neck Cancers”.
Mayo Clinic: “Throat Cancer”.
Centres for Disease Control and Prevention: “Alcohol and Public Health”.
National Cancer Institute: “Oropharyngeal Cancer Treatment”.
American Cancer Society: “Lifestyle changes after laryngeal or hypopharyngeal cancer”.