Throat cancer is caused when the cells in the tissue lining the tonsils, throat (pharynx) and the voice box (pharynx) start to develop into a tumor due to uncontrolled growth in the cells.
The throat is the muscular pipe that extends from the back of the nose and extends to the end of the neck. The voice box (larynx) is situated just below the throat and is made of cartilage tissues that also include the vocal cords. The tonsils are located on the back of the throat where the oral cavity (mouth) ends. A tumor growth in this region is collectively known as throat cancer.
Signs And Symptoms of Throat Cancer?
Some commonly seen signs and symptoms of throat cancer include:
- Incessant coughing
- Hoarseness, or change, in your voice
- Problem while swallowing
- Pain in the ear
- Sore throat or lump in the throat that does not heal
- Increasing weight loss
It is advisable to seek a doctor’s help if you face any of the above symptoms for a long period of time.
Causes of Throat Cancer?
Although it is not known as to what exactly causes throat cancer doctors have deduced certain factors that increase the risk of developing throat cancer, such as:
Tobacco and Alcohol
Tobacco and alcohol are known to be synergistic in causing throat cancer. Chewing tobacco is well known as an etiologic substance that can cause pharyngeal cancer and oral cancer. Smoking tobacco is also known to contribute towards causing oral cancer.
Studies have shown that increased consumption of red meat and processed meats are known to increase the likelihood for causing throat cancer.
Chewing of betel nut for a prolonged period of time by a person is likely to increase the risk of squamous cell cancer in the throat region.
Certain types of infection are known to contribute towards causing throat cancer, such as the human papillomavirus (HPV) that increases the risk of neck squamous cell carcinoma (NSCC)
Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease
Larynx reflux disease causes the stomach acids to flow up in the esophagus (windpipe) and may damage its inner lining.
Besides alcohol and tobacco consumption a vitamin-deficient diet along with weak immune system, prolonged exposure to asbestos, paint fumes and wood dust as well as extensive exposure to petroleum industry chemicals are known to increase the chances of developing throat cancer.
What are the types of Throat Cancer?
Throat cancer is a blanket term used to identify different types of cancer that develop in the throat, voice box or the tonsils.
These are the different types of cancer that develop in the throat region:
- Nasopharyngeal cancer – This cancer develops in the part behind your nose.
- Oropharyngeal cancer – This type of cancer is seen in the tonsils and the immediate surrounding area.
- Hypopharyngeal cancer – Also known as laryngopharyngeal cancer. It develops initially in the laryngopharynx which is situated in the lower throat region above the windpipe and the esophagus.
- Glottic cancer – This type of cancer develops in the vocal cords.
- Supraglottic cancer – This type of cancer begins in the upper part of the larynx (voice box) and also includes epiglottis cancer which affects the piece of cartilage that acts as a plug on the top of the windpipe.
- Subglottic cancer – This type of cancer initially develops in the lower part of the larynx and above the vocal cords.
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What are the risk factors that develop into Throat Cancer?
These are the major factors that increase the risk of developing any type of throat cancer:
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
- Deficiency of fresh fruit and vegetables in the diet
- Human papillomavirus (HPV)
- Extensive alcohol abuse
- Chewing and smoking tobacco use
How is Throat Cancer Diagnosed?
These are the main diagnostic procedures that the doctor might use to identify the presence of throat cancer:
An endoscope is a special tube-like device with a light and a video camera attached to one end. This is used by inserting in your throat so the doctor can visually identify and take note of any abnormal growths in your throat.
This is another tube-like device that has a magnifying glass attached that helps the doctor to identify abnormal growth in the vocal cords. This diagnostic procedure is also known as laryngoscopy.
If the doctor sees any kind of abnormal growth in your throat they may collect a cut a sample of the abnormal tissue to send for a detailed analysis in the pathology lab for identification of cancerous cells.
Imaging tests for identifying throat cancer include using x-ray, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), computerized tomography (CT) scan and positron emission tomography (PET) to gauge the extent of the spread of the throat cancer.
How is Throat Cancer Treated?
Throat cancer is treated using various methods depending on the stage (extent) and location of the cancer, overall physiological health of the patient, type of cancerous cells involved and your personal preferences.
A discussion with the surgeon after the diagnosis can help you better understand the risks and advantages of the different types of treatment methods as well as help you choose the one that is most effective for your individual case.
These are the various methods of treatment of cancer:
Radiation therapy works by using high-energy beams of X-rays and protons to focus on cancerous cells that help destroy them.
It can be performed using either External Beam Radiation or by using smaller devices (such as radioactive seeds and wires) which is known as brachytherapy.
Radiation therapy is mostly advised when the throat cancer is diagnosed to be in the early stages. It is also used to relieve certain discomfort causing signs and symptoms in the later stages of cancer.
There are a few sub-types of surgical treatment of cancer which are selected depending on the location and the advancement of the cancer, such as:
- Early-stage throat cancer – Endoscopy is useful in treating the type of cancer that is seen in the vocal cords or the surface of the throat. This method is a minimally invasive form of surgical procedure that is useful for removing the cancerous tissues by cutting them off or vaporizing them.
- Laryngectomy – The doctor may be required to remove a small part of your larynx (voice box) affected by cancer while leaving the major portion intact. This helps in preserving the ability to speak and breathe normally. In case of larger tumors the doctors might have to remove your voice box completely. In such a case the windpipe is attached to a hole in your throat (stoma) that allows normal breathing. This procedure is also known as a tracheotomy.
- Pharyngectomy – This is required when the cancer affects only smaller parts of your throat. These removed parts are reconstructed in a way which allows you to swallow normally.
- Neck dissection – In case the throat cancer is extensively spread in the neck region the doctor may have to remove the lymph nodes completely or partially.
This procedure uses a combination of medicinal drugs to destroy the cancerous cells and to stop its growth further. Chemotherapy is mostly used in combination with radiation therapy to treat throat cancers.
What is the Survival Rate After Throat Cancer Surgery?
The earlier the stage in which the throat cancer is detected the better are the chances of successful treatment and prevention of recurrence. Research has proven that laryngeal and oral cavity cancers treated at an earlier stage have more than 50% chances of success. The success of surgical treatment also depends on the size of the tumor.
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