Throat Cancer

What is Throat Cancer?

Our throat is also known as the voice box. It is a muscular tube running after the nose towards the neck. The throat is further comprised of the larynx and pharynx. These are responsible for the passing of food, fluid, and air. This is the area that is disrupted due to a tumor, it is called throat cancer. The internal lining of the throat comprises flat cells. This is the part most vulnerable to cancer. Our voice box located below the throat area is also prone to cancer. Our vocal cords generate sound by vibration, helping us speak. The voice box consists of cartilage. Both these parts are affected during throat cancer. 

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    Types

    Throat cancer starts in our throat or voice box. If it starts in the throat, it is known as pharyngeal cancer. If it starts in our voice box, it is termed laryngeal cancer. Each year, more than one million patients are registered in India for throat cancer. The tumor generally affects only a specific cell type within the throat. Yet, a classification is created based on location of throat cancer. 

    Nasopharyngeal Carcinoma: This is the throat area that lies just behind our nose. This cancer develops in this particular area only. 

    Oropharyngeal Carcinoma: This cancer develops in the oropharynx. It is the organ that consists of our tonsils and is situated behind the mouth. 

    Hypopharyngeal Cancer: It is our throat’s lower portion. It is found just above the windpipe and the esophagus. This is the area where this cancer type develops. 

    Glottic Carcinoma: It is the area where our vocal cords are situated. This is the region where glottic cancer is found. 

    Supraglottic Carcinoma: The epiglottis is small cartilage. It prevents the food from going into the windpipe. Supraglottic cancer develops on the topmost part of our voice box. It also involves epiglottis cancer. 

    Subglottic carcinoma: This cancer type can be found in the lowest part of the voice box, just below our vocal cords.

    Symptoms

    The major symptoms associated with throat cancer are: 

    • Voice changes, such as decreasing clarity of speech and increasing hoarseness
    • Persistent cough 
    • Swallowing issues 
    • Aches in the ear
    • Persistent sore or lump in the area 
    • Weight loss
    • Sore throat
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    Causes

    The major reasons behind throat cancer includes abnormalities within the throat cells. The cells mutate, causing uncontrollable growth. Cancer cells that would usually die, survive in such cases. The collective cancer cells in the throat become a tumor. Yet, the causes behind such cell mutations is largely unknown. Doctors have identified certain features that may enhance risk of throat cancer. 

    Additional Risk Factors

    • Excessive tobacco usage, including chewing and smoking 
    • Excessive alcohol drinking 
    • Viral infections including human papillomavirus or HPV and Epstein-Barr virus 
    • Not eating vegetables and fruits 
    • Gastroesophageal reflux disorders or GERD 
    • Exposure to toxic chemicals or substances at work

    Stages

    There are four major stages of throat cancer 

    Stage 0: Stage 0 is the initial stage. It is termed carcinoma-in-situ as often doctors do not consider this as a cancer stage. Here the aberrant cells are found in the lining of the throat. If detected, it can be removed easily to prevent any chance of cancer. Symptoms at this stage are invisible. 

    Stage I: It is the early or initial stage of throat cancer. The diameter of the tumor is limited to two millimeters. The cancer is yet to spread across lymph nodes. 

    Stage II: In this stage, the size of the tumor has become bigger, around two-four centimeters in diameter. The tumor is still located in its original location and has not impacted the lymph nodes yet. 

    Stage III: This is the third stage of throat cancer. Here, the cancer cells have grown beyond four centimeters in diameter. They may also progress to a nearby lymph node. However, they can be found on only one side of the throat. The affected lymph nodes are three millimeters in diameter or less. 

    Stage IV: This is the last and most advanced throat cancer stage. The tumor has reached significant size and can be found in any shape. In this stage, the tumor expands to various locations. These areas can be: 

    • Tissues in the adjacent areas like the trachea, thyroid, neck, jaws, mouth, neck, or esophagus. 
    • One big lymph node of diameter three centimeters and above. It is found in the size where the tumor exists. It can also reach several lymph nodes on the size of the tumor. It can also be found on the lymph node on the other end of the throat. 
    • Far away body parts like the lungs.

    Diagnosis

    Diagnosis tests for throat cancer can include the following: 

    Physical Examination: In physical examination, the doctor will use a scope for examining the throat. It can be an endoscopy which uses a special endoscope. This helps in getting a closer look into the throat. The endoscope comprises a camera. This camera captures images and sends it to the monitor. The doctor will look for abnormalities or other symptoms in the throat. 

    Doctors use a different scope called laryngoscope for examining the voice box. The voice cords are inspected using a magnifying glass. This process is termed laryngoscopy. 

    Biopsy: Biopsy is ordered if the doctor discovered abnormalities during a laryngoscopy or an endoscopy. Biopsy involves collecting tissue samples. The surgical instrument used during the process is called a biopsy scope. The sample is sent to a lab for testing. 

    Imaging Tests: Imaging tests can include CT, MRI or a PET scan. These imaging tests will support your doctor in examining the cancer. It can test the tumor that goes beyond the voice box and the neck.

    Treatment

    Treatment plan depends on stage and location of the cancer. Other factors are cell types involved, overall health as well as personal preferences. If the cells exhibit HPV infection, it can also impact treatment plans. Popular treatment options include: 

    Surgery: Surgical intervention is done after determining the stage and location of the throat cancer. It can be a preferred treatment if the cancer is located in specific areas. 

    Chemotherapy: When it comes to tumor of the throat, chemotherapy is usually given with radiation therapy. This is because certain chemotherapy drugs increase the tumor’s sensitivity towards radiation therapy. At the same time, the negative effects of both therapies can be found in the treatment. 

    Targeted Therapy: Here, targeted medications are used for specific tumor malignancies. They destroy the cancer cells and inhibit the aberrations. 

    Radiation Therapy: This therapy is preferred when tumors are tiny or have not spread to any lymph node. It is often given with chemotherapy for increasing treatment success. It can be used for decreasing the symptoms of cancer. It is often a part of palliative care post-surgery. 

    Immunotherapy: Patients in advanced cancer stages are recommended immunotherapy. It is often used when other treatments have failed. 

    Palliative Care: Medica has a team of experienced and skilled doctors, staff, nurses, and qualified professionals for palliative care. The team is dedicated towards enhancing the life quality for cancer patients. This treatment is recommended in addition to the main cancer treatment.

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