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Throat Cancer: Basic 7 Symptoms And Causes

The throat cancer is a type of cancer that develops in the throat (known as pharynx), voice box (larynx), or tonsils. The throat is a muscular tube that begins behind the nose and ends in your neck. Throat cancer most often begins in the flat cells that line inside the throat. The voice box sits just below the throat and also it is susceptible to throat cancer. The voice box is made of cartilage and it has vocal cords that vibrate to make a sound when you talk.

Throat cancer can affect the piece of cartilage (known as epiglottis) which acts as a lid for your windpipe. Tonsil cancer, which is another form of throat cancer, affects the tonsils that are located on the back of your throat.

Throat Cancer
Throat Cancer

Throat Cancer: Symptoms

Here are some signs and symptoms of throat cancer:

  • Weight loss
  • A cough
  • A sore throat
  • A lump or sore that does not heal
  • Certain changes in your voice, such as hoarseness or not speaking clearly
  • Ear pain
  • Difficulty swallowing

You should visit your doctor if you notice any new signs and symptoms which are persistent. Most throat cancer symptoms are not specific to cancer, so your doctor will make tests to be sure of other causes that could be related to it.


Throat cancer is happening when the cells in your throat develop genetic mutations. These mutations are causing cells to grow uncontrollably and continue living after healthy cells would normally die. These accumulating cells can form a tumor in your throat. It is not known what the cause for a mutation that causes throat cancer is. But, doctors have identified factors that can increase the risk for throat cancer. There are some lifestyles habits that can increase your risk of developing throat cancer, such as

  • Genetic syndromes [1]
  • Smoking [2]
  • Poor dental hygiene
  • Exposure to asbestosis [3,4]
  • Poor nutrition [5]
  • Excessive alcohol consumption [6]

Also, throat cancer is associated with certain types of HPV, which is a sexually transmitted virus. This virus is a risk factor for certain oropharyngeal cancers. Also, throat cancer has been linked to other types of cancers. Some people who are diagnosed with throat cancer are diagnosed with bladder cancer, lung cancer, and esophageal cancer at the same time. This may be happening because these cancers have some of the same risk factors. Your doctor will make all tests needed to identify if you have throat cancer or some other type of cancer.

Risk factors

 Some factors can increase your risk of throat cancer, such as

  • GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) [7]
  • Tobacco use, including smoking and chewing tobacco [2]
  • Excessive alcohol use [6]
  • A diet lacking in fruits and vegetables [5]
  • A sexually transmitted virus called HPV (human papillomavirus) [8]

Throat Cancer: Types

Throat cancer is a general term that applies to cancer that develops in the throat (known as pharyngeal cancer) or in the voice box (known as laryngeal cancer). The voice box and throat cancer are closely connected, with the voice box that is located just below the throat. Most throat cancers involve the same type of cells, but specific terms are used to differentiate the part of the throat where cancer originated. Here are the types of throat cancer:

  • Subglottic cancer: This type of throat cancer begins in the lower portion of your voice box, below your vocal cords.
  • Nasopharyngeal cancer: This type of throat cancer begins in the nasopharynx, which is the part of your throat just behind your nose.
  • Supraglottic cancer: This cancer begins in the upper portion of the larynx and includes cancer that affects the epiglottis, which is a piece of cartilage that blocks food from going into your windpipe.
  • Oropharyngeal cancer: This type of cancer begins in the oropharynx, which is the part of the throat right behind your mouth and it includes your tonsils.
  • Glottic cancer: This type of cancer begins in the vocal cords.
  • Hypopharyngeal cancer (known as laryngopharyngeal cancer): This type of cancer begins in the hypopharynx (known as laryngopharynx), which is the lower part of your throat, just above the esophagus and windpipe.


[1] King’s College London. New throat cancer gene uncovered. Science Daily. 2012. Retrieved from

[2] Bosetti C, Garavello W, Gallus S, La Vecchia C. Effects of smoking cessation on the risk of laryngeal cancer: An overview of published studies. Oral Oncology. 2006;42(9):866-72.

[3] Eastman P. IOM report: Asbestos can cause laryngeal cancer. Oncology Times. 2006;28(14):17.

[4] Roh S, Park S, Tae G, Song J. A case of laryngeal cancer induced by exposure to asbestos in a construction site supervisor. Annals of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. 2016;28:34. doi:10.1186/s40557-016-0114-3

[5] Donaldson MS. Nutrition and cancer: A review of the evidence for an anti-cancer diet. Nutrition Journal. 2004;3:19. doi:10.1186/1475-2891-3-19

[6] Huang CC, Hsiao JR, Lee WT, et al. Investigating the association between alcohol and risk of head and neck cancer in Taiwan. Scientific Reports. 2017;7.

[7] Vaezi MF, Qadeer MA, Lopez R, Colabianchi N. Laryngeal cancer and gastroesophageal reflux disease: A case-control study. The American Journal of Medicine. 2006;119(9):768-76.

[8] Yang D, Shi Y, Tang Y, et al. Effect of HPV infection on the occurrence and development of laryngeal cancer: A review. Journal of Cancer. 2019;10(19):4455–62. doi:10.7150/jca.34016

Elene Jordanova
Elene Jordanova
Elena Jordanova is a medical researcher from Macedonia with specialization in Internal Medicine


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