Throat Cancer Information

Throat cancer is a general term referring to several unique diseases. The four most common include:

  1. Squamous cell carcinoma, which develops in the cells that cells that line the throat
  2. Adenocarcinoma, which develops in the glandular cells of the throat
  3. Pharyngeal cancer, which develops in the nasopharynx, oropharynx, or hypopharynx
  4. Laryngeal cancer, which develops in the voice box.

Throat Cancer Causes

In regards to what causes throat cancer, researchers have identified several risk factors that can increase the likelihood of developing the disease. Some of these risk factors, such as smoking, have a very strong correlation with throat cancer, while others play a more limited role. Potential throat cancer causes include:

  • Regular use of tobacco products, including cigarettes, cigars, and chewing tobacco, all of which can introduce carcinogens (cancer-causing toxins) into the body
  • Moderate to heavy alcohol use (defined as more than one drink per day)
  • Having human papilloma virus (HPV), which can cause healthy cells in areas such as the base of the tongue or the tonsils to become abnormal
  • Having Fanconi anemia or dyskeratosis congenita, inherited genetic defects than can make DNA more prone to cancerous changes
  • Repeated exposure to asbestos, paint fumes, wood dust, or other occupational carcinogens, which can cause significant scarring and damage to the tissues of the throat when ingested
  • Having gastroesophageal reflux disease, which can cause repeated inflammation and irritation to the tissues in the esophagus and throat

Throat Cancer Symptoms

Throat cancer symptoms typically vary from patient to patient. Some people notice warning signs shortly after a tumor starts to develop, while others do not experience anything out of the ordinary until the cancer has spread to nearby tissues. The most common symptoms of throat cancer are caused by the tumor placing pressure on other structures in the throat or mouth. These symptoms include:

  • A sore throat
  • A chronic cough
  • A sudden raspy tone to the voice
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Difficulty talking
  • Pain in or behind the ears
  • A palpable bump in the throat

Other symptoms can develop as the cancer starts to spread and affect other parts of the body. For instance, many people with metastatic throat cancer experience persistent fatigue and unexplained weight loss. Cancer that spreads to the mouth can cause small, open sores in the lips or gums and can also cause swelling of the jaw. These symptoms don’t always mean that a person has cancer. Many throat cancer symptoms can also be caused by more common, less serious conditions such as strep throat. As a result, several different tests may be required for diagnosis. Imaging scans, blood tests, and biopsies (microscopic analysis of a tissue sample) can all help pinpoint the exact cause of a person’s symptoms.

Although all are classified as forms of throat cancer, each of these unique diseases develops, spreads, and responds to treatment in a different way. Therefore, patients are typically advised to seek specialty treatment from oncologists with extensive experience managing these specific malignancies.

Throat Cancer Treatment

Tampa General Hospital's head and neck cancer specialists treat tumors of the sinus, salivary gland, oral cavity, throat, thyroid and parathyroid and endocrine gland. Because our oncologists have a high level of expertise treating cancers found throughout the head and neck, they’re able to recommend the most promising treatments while taking into consideration each patient’s unique needs.

Throat cancer treatment often includes a combination of two or more therapies. The specific regimen recommended for a patient will depend on the size, extent, and location of the tumor, the type of cells that make up the cancer, and the patient’s personal preferences. At Tampa General Hospital, we offer a comprehensive range of throat cancer treatment options through TGH's Head and Neck Cancer Center. These treatments include:

  • Surgery to remove the tumor, cancerous sections of the throat, part or all of the voice box, and/or nearby lymph nodes to which the cancer may have spread. Our surgeons specialize in minimally invasive and robotic techniques and perform a high volume of these procedures each year.
  • Chemotherapy to interfere with the growth patterns of cancerous cells. These medications target cells that divide more rapidly than most normal, healthy cells. We can customize the combination of drugs, dosages, and delivery schedules to meet each patient’s unique needs.
  • Radiation therapy, including external beam radiation therapy or internal radiation therapy (brachytherapy). Our radiation oncologists will recommend the delivery method most capable of destroying cancerous tissues while minimizing radiation exposure to nearby healthy tissues in the throat and neck.

Not only do patients have access to our complete range of throat cancer therapies, but also the supportive care services that reflect our commitment to comprehensive cancer treatment. This includes speech pathology services, dietary counseling, and extensive integrative medicine services to enhance their quality of life throughout recovery.