Throat Cancer Diagnosing

More than 25,000 cases of throat cancer will be diagnosed this year, with over 7,000 people (roughly 30 percent) dying from this condition. One reason for such a significant mortality rate is related to the symptoms of this condition: because early symptoms of throat cancer can be difficult to identify, many cases of throat cancer arent diagnosed until they have progressed to later stage.

Along with having elusive symptoms, throat cancer can also affect a variety of tissue in the oral cavity, which is another reason that early throat cancer symptoms can be difficult to pinpoint. Areas in which malignant cells can develop due to throat cancer include the vocal cords, the lips and the tongue.

Risk Factors for Throat Cancer

While the exact causes of throat cancer are unknown, a variety of factors can put people at a higher risk of developing this condition, including:

  • alcohol use
  • frequent sun exposure
  • gender (Men are more likely to be diagnosed with throat cancer, perhaps because more men than women smoke.)
  • poor oral hygiene
  • tobacco use (either in the form of cigarettes or chewing tobacco)

The more risk factors that apply to a person, the greater chances are that he will develop throat cancer. For example, studies have found that smokers who drink alcohol have an even higher risk for throat cancer than those who dont drink.

Preventing Throat Cancer

In addition to avoiding the risk factors associated with throat cancer (such as smoking, alcohol abuse and excessive sun exposure), regularly visiting your dentist is extremely important. Not only will regular dentist visits help you maintain good oral hygiene, but it is also essential for early detection of this condition.

Your dentist is trained to look for symptoms of throat cancer during routine exams. He will conduct a visual exam of all areas of your mouth and tongue, checking for spots, or lesions.

The dentist will also conduct a manual exam to check for lumps or swelling. While the exam may feel strange, those few moments could reveal a cancer before it spreads and becomes more difficult to treat. If your dentist identifies anything suspicious, you will be referred to your doctor for further tests.

Symptoms of Throat Cancer

Symptoms of throat cancer may include some or all of the following:

  • a hoarse voice
  • a painless lump or white patch on the lip or inside the mouth or throat
  • bleeding or sore spots that wont go away
  • difficulty speaking or swallowing
  • ear pain
  • swelling of the lip, gums, throat and/or jaw.

If you have any of these symptoms, get to your dentist or doctor right away. While the exam may reveal nothing more than a cold sore or a simple virus, if throat cancer is detected, an early diagnosis has a better change of successfully treating this condition.

Diagnosing Throat Cancer

Once the major symptoms of throat cancer have been detected, doctors typically order a biopsy to evaluate whether or not these abnormal cells are malignant. This means that the sore or spot will be scraped, or liquid will be extracted from it. The doctor may also insert a scope, made of flexible tubing, down your throat to get a clear view of all areas of the throat and neck. This will help him identify whether or not the cancer has spread to other areas of the oral cavity.

Unlike the process associated with diagnosing other cancers, blood tests are not helpful in diagnosing throat cancer. After the biopsy, your doctor will know whether or not you suffer from throat cancer. At this time, he will likely layout your treatment options.

Throat Cancer Treatment

Treatment for throat cancer generally follows the same treatment as most other types of cancer. Depending on the stage of your cancer and the location of the tumors, doctors will prescribe some combination of chemotherapy, radiation treatment and/or surgery to remove the tumors.

If you catch the throat cancer tumors early, removing the spot or lump surgically may eliminate the cancer. However, in more advanced cases, the surgeon may want to remove the cancerous lesion or lump and follow up with chemotherapy and/or radiation to kill off the remaining cancerous cells.

Research has recently found that treating some throat cancers with lasers removes less healthy tissue and allows for shorter hospital stays after treatment. You can discuss all your options with your doctor. Remember that early detection is the key to successful treatment.

Resources

Medscape (2007).Laser Surgery for Carcinoma of Throat and Voice Box Preserves Function. Retrieved on June 19, 2007 from the Medscape Web site: http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/553684.

WebMD (2007). Cancer of the Mouth and Throat. Retrieved on June 19, 2007 from the WebMD Web site: http://www.webmd.com/cancer/cancer-of-the-mouth-and-throat.

WebMD (2007). Laryngeal cancer; Treatment -Health Profession Information [NCIPDQ]-General Information. Retrieved on June 19, 2007 from the WebMD Web site: http://www.webmd.com/cancer/tc/Laryngeal-cancer-Treatment-Health-Professional-Information-NCI-PDQ-General-Information.

WebMD (2007). Laryngeal cancer: Treatment — Patient Information [NCI PDQ] — Treatment Options by Stage. Retrieved on June 19, 2007 from the WebMD Web site: http://www.webmd.com/cancer/tc/Laryngeal-cancer-Treatment-Patient-Information-NCI-PDQ-Treatment-Options-by-Stage.