Awareness of the throat cancer symptoms is critical for early detection and treatment. The symptoms of throat cancer depend on the specific part of the throat that is affected and its stages.
Early symptoms of throat cancer include:
- Persistent hoarseness of voice
- Difficulty in voice production
- Changes in voice
- Sore throat
- Continuous dry cough
- Pain while swallowing liquids and solid foods
- Pain in the throat and ear
- Difficulty breathing
- A small swelling or a lump in the throat or neck region
- Unexplained weight loss
Hoarseness is sudden, marked, and easily detectable by self-assessment. Moreover, a lump in the throat region is also visible right from the early stages and can be detected before it develops into a painful swelling of the throat
The most crucial and difficult part of throat cancer detection based on early symptoms is the similarity of these symptoms to various other common and easily curable throat diseases, such as bacterial or viral infections. Early detection of throat cancer therefore lies in the persistence of these symptoms, despite treatment efforts, beyond 3 weeks.
Symptoms in Advanced Stages
The symptoms of throat cancer worsen as the cancer advances further, affecting the surrounding tissues. This includes aggravation of the early symptoms, typical advanced cancer symptoms and symptoms due to throat cancer related ailments.
Aggravation of early symptoms such as persistent hoarseness of voice and difficulty in voice production may lead to permanent changes in voice, or at times, loss of voice function. The initial pain during swallowing liquid or solid food may develop into unbearable pain and difficulty swallowing.
Typical advanced throat cancer symptoms include:
- Abnormal difficulty in breathing accompanied by whistle-like sounds
- Unexplained dry cough sometimes with bleeding and mucus
- Radiating pain and swelling in the jaw
- A persistent red patch in the entire oral cavity
- A stuffed up painful feeling in the ear
- Constantly growing lump or swelling in the neck region
- Marked visible weight loss
Symptoms due to throat cancer-related ailments occur primarily due to altered function of the associated and nearby glands, including:
- Thyroid due to proliferation of cancer cells
- Subsequent release of substances that alter the metabolic functions of vital organs
- Compromised immunological status and secondary or opportunistic bacterial and viral infections. This includes high blood pressure, low blood pressure, and loss of appetite, morbidity, and abnormal lethargy.
As discussed, the symptoms of throat cancer are at times specific to the part of the throat afflicted. For example, in laryngeal throat cancers that begin on the vocal cords, hoarseness or a change in voice is a marked early symptom. Throat cancer originating in the epiglottis causes swallowing and breathing difficulties from the earliest stages. For throat cancer that originates in the tonsils, swelling in the neck region is evident from the early stages.
Throat Cancer due to HPV and Symptoms
Recent research has identified a virus called the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) that triggers cancer mutations in cells. Throat cancer due to HPV mutations have been mostly detected in tonsils and at back of the tongue. Symptoms due to HPV include:
- Sudden marked changes like redness, swelling in the tonsils and surrounding tissues
- Persistent cough
- Sore throat that does not heal at the back of the tongue
- Voice changes that do not resolve beyond three weeks of treatment
- Visible swelling in the throat region.
More than eighty percent of the throat cancers detected in the US seem to have their origin in HPV infections as evidenced by research. Since, HPV has been found in saliva, semen, and genital secretions, unsafe sexual practice has been recently recognized as a potential risk factor for throat cancer.
When to see a Doctor
Most of the early symptoms of throat cancer are similar to those of various other common and curable throat conditions, such as bacterial or viral infections. This aspect of throat cancer symptoms can make self-assessment quite difficult.
It is therefore advisable to consult a doctor for cancer detection if you experience the aforementioned symptoms persisting over a period beyond 3 weeks, despite treatment efforts.