How Would I Know if I Had Throat Cancer?

ENT doctor looking for symptoms of throat cancer.

It’s impossible to self-diagnose cancer. But it is certainly something you may worry about; you wouldn’t be the first to lose some sleep wondering whether your sore throat is caused by allergies or something more serious.

Your symptoms can only be effectively diagnosed by your doctor. You should schedule an appointment as soon as possible if you think you might be developing the early symptoms of throat cancer.

What is throat cancer?

There are a whole range of cancers that can appear in the throat and they are all regarded as throat cancer.

There are some similarities between some of these cancers. There are narrow, flat cells that line your throat referred to as squamous cells. Typically, throat cancers will start in these cells, and the resultant cancer becomes known as a squamous cell carcinoma.

These kinds of cancers develop in two different forms:

  • Pharyngeal cancer: These cancers start in your pharynx. Essentially, this is the tissue behind your mouth, into your throat, and behind your nose.
  • Laryngeal cancer: This more rare type of cancer begins in your voice box, also known as your larynx.

Pharyngeal cancer comes in three main varieties

Pharyngeal cancer is usually divided into three separate subtypes, depending on where it is found:

Hypopharyngeal: The bottom of the throat is the starting point of this form of cancer.

Oropharyngeal: The starting place of this cancer is the middle of the throat (as the syllable “oro” suggests) and behind the tongue including parts of the roof of the mouth. This form of pharyngeal cancer is the most common.

Nasopharyngeal: This cancer begins near the top of your throat, just behind the nose.

What are the symptoms of throat cancer?

The principal difference between these cancers can only be sorted out by your doctor who will also be able to lay out treatment solutions and prognosis. If you’re thinking about making an appointment, however, you’re likely questioning what symptoms look like and what they may indicate. The possible symptoms of throat cancer may include:

  • A lump in your neck.
  • Pain behind your nose or in your throat.
  • Hoarse voice, particularly if it’s chronic.
  • Tinnitus in one ear.
  • Sore throat, particularly if it’s persistent.
  • Swollen lymph nodes in the neck.
  • Hearing loss in one ear.
  • Persistent ear infections.
  • Persistent trouble swallowing.
  • Red or white spots in your throat.

Throat cancer risk factors

Unfortunately, there’s nothing in these symptoms that is entirely exclusive to throat cancer.

Hearing loss and tinnitus, for example, are very common symptoms of conditions that have nothing to do with cancer.

That’s why it’s helpful to consider risk factors while you’re thinking about symptoms. Your chance of developing throat cancer significantly goes up by the following:

  • Excessive alcohol consumption.
  • Nutritional issues, like inadequate nutrition or malnutrition.
  • HPV (human papillomavirus) infections.
  • Chewing tobacco or smoking: These activities have been associated with high throat cancer rates (along with other cancers).
  • Acid reflux, or a type of acid reflux called GERD.

Family history of throat cancer or the presence of any of these risk factors would be a good reason to get an exam.

How is throat cancer diagnosed?

Physicians can use one of numerous methods to help diagnose a possible throat cancer. We might biopsy suspect tissue or order imaging scans of varied kinds (such as X-Rays or CT scans). In some cases, we need to get a better look in your throat so an endoscopy will be used. (An endoscopy might be conducted under general anesthesia.)

In your specific circumstance, we will be able to identify which tests will be needed.

After diagnosis, what happens then?

What occurs after the diagnosis will depend substantially on what we find. Tissue that you thought was questionable, in many instances, will turn out to be benign. But in other situations, something more serious may be found.

Early detection is crucial if it turns out that you’re dealing with throat cancer. Some types of throat cancer have a relatively good 5-year survival rate, so getting treated can save your life.

But the earlier you diagnose throat cancer, the higher the chance of a positive result. So if you suspect you or a loved one is developing throat cancer symptoms, make an appointment today.

The site information is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. To receive personalized advice or treatment, schedule an appointment.

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