Cancer is caused by cells in the body that have unlimited potential to multiply and form tumors. When cancerous cells in the throat lead to tumor formation in the throat and surrounding structures, it can cause throat cancer. This type of cancer falls under the broad category of head and neck cancer. Head and neck cancers account for approximately 4% of all cancers in the United States. The majority of head and neck cancers are oral and oropharyngeal cancers.
Generally, throat cancers originate either in the larynx or the pharynx. The pharynx is a region of the throat, and tumors that form here are further classified into nasopharyngeal cancer, oropharyngeal cancer, and hypopharyngeal cancer. These cancers occur in the upper, middle, and lower part of the throat, respectively.
Laryngeal cancers occur in the voice box and they affect the vocal cords, epiglottis, or other structures. Subtypes of laryngeal cancers are called glottic cancer, supraglottic cancer, and subglottic cancer, depending on exactly where the tumors first arise.
Throat cancers also refer to cancers that occur in the tonsils, salivary glands, and thyroid gland.
About 90% of all throat cancers are squamous cell carcinomas, which affect the flat cells that line the throat.
Who gets throat cancer?
When it comes to what can cause throat cancer, there are certain risk categories for developing the disease. While genetics play a role with some genetic diseases leading to throat cancer, some of the risk factors can be eliminated through lifestyle changes.
Smoking or tobacco use is among the highest risk factors for the development of throat cancer. Research has found a strong correlation between the amount a person smokes and the occurrence of throat cancer. Quitting tobacco use can greatly decrease the risk of developing this type of cancer.
When smoking is combined with alcohol use, the risk of throat cancer is the highest. Having one or more alcoholic drinks a day without smoking is also a risk factor for developing throat cancer.
Exposure to human papillomavirus is another factor that increases the risk of developing throat cancer. The risk of HPV related throat cancer can be decreased by getting an HPV vaccine. Contact your doctor to find out how to get the vaccine. The vaccine has an age limitation and it is best to start it in childhood.
There are some early indications of throat cancer, but they resemble other less serious diseases, so throat cancers are often diagnosed in advanced stages. Some of the major throat cancer symptoms include a persistent sore throat, hoarseness, swollen lymph nodes in the neck, earache, headache, unexplained weight loss, and sores that do not heal.
If you experience these symptoms for longer than two to three weeks continuously, see your doctor to find out whether you should be screened for throat cancer. Early throat cancer diagnosis greatly improves the prognosis and survival rates.
How common is throat cancer?
According to the World Cancer Research Fund, cancers that occur in the pharynx, larynx, and the mouth account for over 750,000 cases of cancer globally, as of 2018. The same organization also estimates that cancers occurring in the oral cavity, larynx, oropharynx, hypopharynx, and salivary glands rank as the 21st, 24th, 25th, and 28th most common cancers respectively. These numbers show that throat cancers are relatively less common than other types of cancer. The prevalence of throat cancer also affects countries around the world differently. Comparison of age-standardized statistics by country in 2018 showed that Cuba had the highest throat cancer rate of all countries. Based on the subtype of throat cancer, Hungary and Denmark had the highest rates of oropharyngeal cancer. Hypopharyngeal cancer was the highest in Bangladesh, followed by Hungary. Sweden and Finland had the highest rates of cancer in the salivary glands.
The American Cancer Society estimates that approximately 53,260 people will be diagnosed with oral cavity and oropharyngeal cancers. An estimated 10,000 people will die of these cancers. The average age of people who get throat cancer are above 62, and throat cancer occurs most commonly in the tongue, tonsils, oropharynx, gums, and floor of the mouth.
Nasopharyngeal cancers are relatively very uncommon. According to statistics collected by the World Health Organization, the most common type, nasopharyngeal carcinoma, accounts for only 0.7% of all cancers worldwide. In the United States, only one out of every 100,000 people is diagnosed with this type of cancer.
Within the United States, hypopharyngeal cancer is more rare than laryngeal cancer. Every year, there are 3,000 new cases of hypopharyngeal cancer, and 12,370 adults will be diagnosed with laryngeal cancer this year alone. This incidence has a large gender skew: five times more men than women are diagnosed with throat cancer every year. It is also estimated that the amount of cases is decreasing annually due to fewer people smoking.
What is the survival rate for throat cancer?
A five-year survival rate is a good indicator of how many people will still be alive five years after the diagnosis of throat cancer. Five-year survival rates for throat cancer vary depending on the type of cancer and whether it is localized, regional, or has spread to distant parts in the body. It also depends on where the cancer is located and what stage it is at.
According to the American Cancer Society and the National Cancer Institute’s Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) Program, laryngeal cancers have a survival rate of 60%. For patients diagnosed before the cancer has spread out of the larynx, the survival rate is 77%. However, for patients in whom the tumor has already spread to distant organs, the survival rate is 33%.
Since laryngeal cancers cause symptoms such as coughing up blood, hoarseness, or a persistent sore throat earlier than pharyngeal cancers, their survival rates are relatively higher. Due to the location where tumors develop in hypopharyngeal cancers, these cancers often do not cause any symptoms until they advance to later stages, making them difficult to diagnose early on. For this reason, the survival rate of hypopharyngeal cancer is only 32% since the tumor has likely already spread at the time of diagnosis.
The overall survival rate for people with oral or oropharyngeal cancers is about 65%. The survival rate for nasopharyngeal cancers that have not spread outside the nasopharynx is 82%.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Standard procedures in the diagnosis of throat cancer include a combination of physical examination of the throat and surrounding areas, a biopsy to test for the presence of cancer cells, and imaging tests to determine the size of tumors and stage of the cancer.
If you or a loved one receives a diagnosis, being aware of how commonly the cancer occurs and the survival rates will help you evaluate your options for how to treat throat cancer. Conventional throat cancer treatment methods usually combine surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy. At the Immunity Therapy Center, we use natural and holistic approaches to cancer treatment that can be an alternative to conventional therapy. Treating throat cancer promptly is important for the highest chance of survival. Everyone’s body is different, and so everyone’s cancer is unique to them. We are here to help you find the right treatment for your condition.
Written By: Dr. Adolfo Carrillo
Dr. Adolfo Carrillo is a Board Certified Medical Doctor from Universidad Autónoma de Baja California.
Dr. Carrillo has been collaborating with Dr. Bautista for over 5 years as a treating physician at the Immunity the Immunity Therapy Center. Dr. Carrillo is a charismatic Doctor whose knowledge and commitment to patient care and bringing healing to patients is a valuable asset to our center.
At Immunity Therapy Center, our goal is to provide objective, updated, and research-based information on all health-related topics. This article is based on scientific research and/or other scientific articles. All information has been fact-checked and reviewed by Dr. Carlos Bautista, a Board Certified Medical Doctor at Immunity Therapy Center. All information published on the site must undergo an extensive review process to ensure accuracy. This article contains trusted sources with all references hyperlinked for the reader's visibility.