Throat Cancer Symptoms

Throat cancer refers to cancer that affects the pharynx (the area that connects the mouth and the nasal cavity), the vocal cords and/or the larynx (the voice box). Although smokers and those with chronic acid reflux disease are at a higher risk of developing throat cancer, those with a family history of this disease may develop it as well.

Here are some throat cancer statistics for the United States in 2007 (as estimated by the National Cancer Institute):

  • Approximately 5,000 people will die of throat cancer in 2007.
  • African American men have the highest incidence of throat cancer (approximately 12 percent), followed by white men (roughly 7 percent) and Hispanic men (approximately 5 percent).
  • Cancer of the pharynx is far more likely than cancer of the larynx.
  • Men are far more likely than women to suffer from throat cancer.
  • Roughly 23,000 new cases of throat cancer will be diagnosed this year.

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In this section, we will outline and explain the various symptoms and diagnostic tools used to identify throat cancer.

Throat Cancer: Symptoms

Unfortunately, some of the early symptoms of throat cancer are fairly general and, therefore, can easily be confused for some other condition or illness. Some of the common symptoms associated with throat cancer include:

  • Chronic earaches
  • Chronic sore throat
  • Difficulty speaking
  • Enlarged lymph nodes
  • Feelings of numbness in the face
  • Hoarse voice
  • Pain when swallowing
  • Visible sores in the mouth or on the tongue.

Although some may write off these symptoms as a simple sore throat, the flu or even a serious case of the common cold, the key difference between milder conditions and the presence of throat cancer is how long these symptoms last. Chronic or persisting cases of these symptoms can indicate throat cancer.

As a result, if you suffer from any combination of these symptoms, seek medical attention. While you may not have throat cancer, medical attention is necessary to rule out a potentially serious underlying cause.

If you do suffer from throat cancer, early diagnosis of the condition is essential to getting the best results from treatment options. Thus, it is important to understand the symptoms of throat cancer.

Diagnosing Throat Cancer

Throat cancer diagnosis starts with a trip to an otorhinolaryngologist (a surgeon who specializes in diseases of the head and neck). During your first visit, this highly specialized doctor will ask for your medical history as well as that of your family. She will then visually examine your inner and outer neck region. In most cases, the doctor also takes a biopsy (a small tissue sample) that she will send to the lab for a more involved examination.

If the lab results reflect that a patient does indeed have throat cancer, then the doctor will perform more tests to determine how far the cancer has spread. These tests typically involve imaging procedures, namely:

  • computer tomography (CT)
  • magnetic resonance imaging (MRIs)
  • ultrasounds
  • X-rays.

As you are going through the diagnostic process, keep in mind that it can take months, as doctors will likely need to perform a number of tests, the results of which will need to be analyzed in a lab. However, once the doctor has identified the scope of the cancer, effective treatment can begin. Diagnosing throat cancer is an important step on the road to treatment.


Mayo Foundation (n.d.) Throat Cancer: Diagnosis. Retrieved August 23, 2007, from