Throat cancer refers to any cancer tumor that develops in the pharynx, larynx, epiglottis or tonsils. The human throat begins behind the nose and ends in the neck region above the collarbone. Throat cancer is life threatening. According to the Throat Cancer Statistics released by The National Cancer Institute at The National Institutes of Health, USA, 25, 870 new cases of throat cancer have been reported and 5, 980 throat cancer deaths recorded in 2012. According to Throat Cancer Statistics released by Coalition of Cancer Cooperative Groups, laryngeal cancer (cancer of the larynx) is one of the most common cancers of the head and neck region.
Cause and Risk Factors
Genetic mutations that trigger uncontrolled cell proliferation in the throat cause throat cancer. Though the precise underlying cause of these lethal genetic mutations remains unclear, numerous risk factors for throat cancer have been identified. These include use of tobacco products from cigarette smoking to tobacco chewing, excessive alcohol consumption, lack of dental hygiene, chronic exposure to harmful substances like asbestos, welding gases, and chemicals, as well as poor dietary fiber intake. Recent research suggests that the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) triggers cancer mutations in cells.
Early symptoms of throat cancer include:
- Persistent hoarseness of voice
- Difficulty in voice production
- Changes in voice
- Sore throat lasting beyond 3 weeks
- Continuous dry cough
- Pain while swallowing both liquids and solid foods
- Pain in the throat and ear
- An abnormal swelling or lump in the throat or neck region
- Unexplained weight loss.
Given the similarity between most of the early symptoms of throat cancer and other curable throat conditions such as bacterial or viral infections, it is imperative that you consult a physician.
There are two basic types of treatment options for throat cancer:
- The Standard Cancer Treatment
- Treatment by Clinical Trial Participation
The Standard Cancer Treatment
The standard treatment of throat cancer includes radiation, surgery, and chemotherapy.
Radiation therapy involves the use of regulated high-energy radiation to destroy the cancer cells. Radiation therapy can either be administered externally from a machine source to the target cells or internally using specially designed needles, capsules, wires, or catheters that carry specific radioactive materials to the target cells.
Surgical removal of the cancer-affected tissues depends on the stage and the type of throat cancer. Cordectomy is the surgical removal of the vocal cords. Supraglottic laryngectomy removes the supraglottis. Hemilaryngectomy is the surgical removal of half of the larynx. Partial laryngectomy is the surgical removal of part of the larynx. Total laryngectomy is the surgical removal of the entire larynx. Laser surgery is a new procedure that uses a laser beam to remove cancer tissue.
Chemotherapy employs drugs to kill, retard the progress, and arrest the growth of cancer cells. Systemic chemotherapy is administered through an oral, muscular, or intravenous route into the bloodstream. When these drugs are directed to specific targets such as the cerebrospinal fluid d or abdominal cavity it is called regional chemotherapy.
Most often, chemotherapy is given as an adjuvant therapy after surgery or radiation therapy to reduce the risk of recurrence and arrest the spread of cancer cells into the neighboring organs.
Treatment by Clinical Trial Participation
Treatment by clinical trial participation is a recent trend in the treatment of throat cancer. Treatment by clinical trial participation enables cancer patients to take advantage of the recent research drugs under clinical investigation that are not yet available as a standard medical treatment option. These new treatment methods currently under clinical investigation include chemoprevention of cancer recurrence with the use of drugs like isotretinoin and radiosentisization of the cancer cells with drugs to be more effectively targeted by radiation.
Side Effects of Throat Cancer Treatment
Radiation therapy in the throat region may alter the functions of the thyroid and other glands in the affected region. Surgical removal may result in the loss of a specific function as in Total laryngectomy where the entire affected voice box is removed. Chemotherapy always results in undesirable side effects such as hair loss, loss of reproductive function, and drastic depletion of blood cells.
Reduction of risk factors and early detection can help prevent throat cancer. These include the complete avoidance of tobacco products, alcohol, exposure to toxic substances, while also maintaining good dental hygiene and a fiber-rich diet. Early symptom detection depends on prompt medical attention to persistent throat related ailments such as those listed above.