Laryngeal (throat) cancer occurs when a malignant tumor develops in your voice box (larynx). Most laryngeal cancers are categorized as squamous cell carcinomas, meaning they form in the squamous cells that line the inside of the larynx. This type of cancer can spread to other parts of the body through metastasis or via the bloodstream.
What Are the Symptoms of Laryngeal Cancer?
Symptoms of laryngeal cancer are similar or identical to those found with other conditions, so a full examination, coupled with diagnostic testing, is essential for a proper diagnosis. Signs include hoarseness or other voice changes that last longer than three weeks, a persistent sore throat or cough, pain when swallowing, earache and a lump in the throat or neck.
What Causes Laryngeal Cancer?
Throat cancer can strike anybody, but there are a number of risk factors that make the disease more likely in certain individuals. Smoking is the biggest risk factor for this type of cancer: heavy smokers who have used tobacco for a long time are 20 times more likely to die from laryngeal cancer than nonsmokers. Chewing tobacco is equally dangerous. Persons who consume alcohol also have a higher risk, particularly if they are heavy drinkers or also smoke.
Other risk factors include exposure to the human papillomavirus (HPV) through an infection in the throat, acid reflux and a diet lacking in fruits and vegetables. Those with a prior history of head and neck cancer are more likely to develop laryngeal cancer, as well.
How Is Laryngeal Cancer Treated?
Treatment for laryngeal cancer varies depending on the size and location of the tumor, whether it has spread to other areas of the body and the overall health of the patient. Options are likely to include radiation therapy (especially for early-stage throat cancer), surgery, chemotherapy and targeted drug therapy. Often different combinations of treatments will be pursued, such as targeted therapy in conjunction with radiation therapy.
If you smoke cigarettes or drink alcohol, quitting will improve your chances of successfully beating throat cancer. Your body will be able to tolerate treatment better and your risk of developing a second cancer will drop.