Throat cancer, also known as vocal cord cancer, is a cancer that affects the vocal cord area of the throat. It may also affect other areas of the throat as well. There are several causes and risk factors for throat cancer. People who smoke, use tobacco or other inhalants may develop throat cancer easier than others. It is a common misconception that this is the only way to obtain throat cancer. In fact, another form of cause for throat cancer is increased alcohol use. For individuals who smoke and drink alcohol their risk factors are increased for throat cancer. Throat cancer is most common in adults over the age of 50. Men are also 10 times more likely to develop throat cancer than women who also smoke and drink.
There are several symptoms of throat cancer the patient should be aware of. One of the first symptoms is an abnormal breathing sound. This breathing sound may sound like wheezing or a slight asthma attack. Coughing, coughing up blood and difficulty swallowing are also signs and symptoms of throat cancer. Coughing up blood is a severe symptom that should lead the patient to contact a doctor immediately. Difficulty swallowing and coughing may be confused at first with flulike symptoms or with strep throat. If strep throat is not indicated through testing a doctor should be consulted immediately. If coughing, swallowing and a horse sound when talking does not improve in a matter of two weeks the patient should contact a doctor. Next pain and sore throat pain are also symptoms that will not go away. Antibiotics may help in the short term, however the symptoms will continue to return. Swelling and lumps in the neck are also signs of throat cancer along with weight loss.
Biopsies of any lumps in the neck or tumors are ways to test for throat cancer. Chest x-rays, chest scans, headed neck scans and MRIs are also ways to test for throat cancer.
Treatments for throat cancer vary. The goal of any throat cancer treatment is to remove the cancer and prevent it from spreading or returning to various parts of the body. If the tumor is small and surgery or radiation therapy can be the best option and treatment option to remove the tumor. If the tumor has become larger or the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes radiation and chemotherapy are utilized in order to treat the cancer as well as preserve the voice box. When a patient needs surgery to remove the tumor all or part of the vocal cords may need to be removed at that time. Speech therapy will need to be given as part of an after surgery treatment for the patient. Patients may also require swallowing therapy after treatment and other special therapies. It should be noted that if the throat cancer is detected early there is a 90% cure rate. If the cancer spreads to the lymph nodes the cure rate reduces to a 50 to 60% cure rate. If the cancer has spread to other parts of the body outside of the neck area the cancer may not be curable and treatment is developed for prolonging life and quality of life rather than the removal of cancer.