Cancer, regardless of where it appears in the body, can interfere with normal functioning. Throat cancer types are no exception. Cancerous cells can develop in the throat and surrounding regions, including head and neck cancer, pharyngeal cancer (nasopharyngeal, oropharyngeal, or hypopharyngeal depending on what part of the throat they are in, laryngeal cancer, tonsil cancer, thyroid cancer, esophageal cancer, and cancer of the salivary glands.
How Common is Throat Cancer?
Most of these cancer types are very rare. For example, there are only about 12,470 new cases of laryngeal cancer every year, the majority in people 55 or older. Laryngeal cancer is more common in men than women and even more common in Black men.
Pharyngeal cancer is more common, but still rare.
Risk factors for throat cancer include smoking, drinking, and certain viral infections. HPV infection in the throat can cause cancer (this is transmitted primarily through oral sex), and there have also been cases associated with the Epstein-Barr virus (mono). Make sure to read up on what causes throat cancer so that you can take preventative measures against developing symptoms.
What Are the Symptoms of Throat Cancer?
Symptoms vary depending on which part of the throat is infected, and they can also occur in the mouth, nose, and sinuses. However, they include:
- Changes to the voice. This might mean hoarseness, slurred speech, or “stuffiness” in the voice, similar to what is experienced with a cold.
- Persistent sore throat, causing discomfort or pain and not responding to other treatment options.
- Persistent cough, especially if bloody.
- A swollen lymph node in the neck.
- Swollen lumps on the neck that grow slowly and do not get smaller. Lumps that get smaller on their own are typically not due to cancer.
- Sores in the mouth that do not heal on their own.
- Trouble swallowing, possibly accompanied by burning or pain and a feeling that food remains stuck in your throat.
- Unexplained weight loss. This can be associated with difficulty swallowing. The pain when swallowing causes you to eat or drink less.
- Nose bleeds.
- Trouble opening the mouth.
- Difficulty moving the tongue.
Note that these throat cancer symptoms can be caused by things other than throat cancer, often things that are treatable. Some types of throat cancer may only cause symptoms when they are well-developed. Unfortunately, this means they are often not detected until later stages of the disease when they are harder to deal with. Hypopharyngeal cancer, which affects the bottom of the throat, is well known for not showing signs.
If you are on medication, check to see if your throat cancer symptoms are a side effect. If so, you may want to talk to your doctor about adjusting your dosage or exploring an alternative. You need to be aware of what is going on with your body.
How to Prevent Throat Cancer
The best way to keep from preventing throat cancer is to quit smoking, or not to start in the first place. Smoking is a major risk factor for throat cancer. There are some other risk factors that are controllable.
- Moderate to frequent consumption of alcohol, especially if you also smoke. Men should consume no more than two drinks a day and women no more than two. Avoid binge drinking, categorized as four or more drinks in a session.
- Vaccination against HPV. It is a myth that only people who have a cervix need to get vaccinated against HPV. There is an age limit, due to the fact that most sexually active people are infected. If you have children, talk to your doctor about when to get them vaccinated against HPV.
- Chewing tobacco.
- Eating a poor diet lacking in fruits or vegetables.
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
Diagnosis and Treatment
Laryngeal and hypopharyngeal cancers are usually found when an investigation is done after symptoms, but the diagnosis requires clinical trial testing. However, the process starts with a physical exam where your doctor will look for abnormal areas in the mouth or throat as well as for swollen lymph nodes in your neck. Your healthcare provider may do other tests to eliminate other conditions and talk to you about your medication.
However, it is likely you will be referred to an otolaryngologist for a more thorough examination. This will include a laryngoscopy.
The simplest form is an indirect laryngoscopy, where your healthcare provider will place a mirror against the roof of your mouth and then shine a light in, looking at your throat in the mirror. This takes five to ten minutes and does not require anesthesia, although your doctor may spray numbing medication in your throat.
A direct laryngoscopy might be done if nothing can be seen or if it’s suspected that the cancer cells are further down your throat. Typically this is a direct flexible laryngoscopy, where a fiber-optic tube is placed up your nose and down into your throat. You will have local anesthesia applied to your nose. A biopsy can also be done this way.
A direct rigid laryngoscopy is more thorough and is done under general anesthesia. It includes a full examination of the mouth, tongue, neck, and the part of the throat behind the nose. Biopsies might be taken to check for cancerous cells.
Another test that might be done is a CT scan or MRI scan to check for spread of the cancer into other areas, such as lymph nodes in the neck or the lungs.
Treatment starts with smoking cessation. If you smoke, you should quit, and if quitting is difficult for you, you should ask your doctor for help. You will also get blood tests done. Neck surgery is sometimes needed to treat throat cancer. Radiotherapy and chemotherapy are also common, and you may be a candidate for targeted medications. However, these treatments have harsh side effects that can leave you constantly exhausted and sick.
How Can Throat Cancer be Treated Without Chemotherapy and Radiotherapy
Throat cancer can also be treated using natural methods that support your immune system and improve your overall health. These can sometimes replace traditional therapies, or can complement them, resulting in higher success and/or a shorter course of treatment for throat cancer. A healthy immune system helps your body fight cancer.
These might include:
- Increasing dietary fiber. Most of us don’t get enough fiber, and that leads to gastrointestinal disease, hemorrhoids, and even heart disease and stroke. A form of soluble fiber called psyllium can help.
- Eating garlic. Garlic helps your immune system function when it is under stress. However, garlic supplements are less useful than eating more raw and cooked garlic (although they can be helpful if you dislike the taste).
- Psychotherapy. The mind and the body really are linked. Therapy, including spiritual therapy, can help by reducing stress and improving your sense of purpose. This can help your body fight cancer and can also help you deal with your situation in a healthier manner. Additionally, many people with cancer experience a worsening mental health that a good therapist can help with.
- Immunotherapy. Many doctors believe that immunotherapy is the future of cancer treatment. There are a variety of approaches. For example, intratumoral immunotherapy, where antibodies are injected straight into the tumor, and intravenous immunotherapy. Cancer “vaccines” are another approach. These work by either inserting a virus into the cancer cell, so it is attacked by your immune system or by stimulating the production of natural killer cells, which go after tumors. All of this shares the same approach: Your immune system can deal with the cancer if you give it a bit of help.
- Metabolic therapy, which involves supplements, diet changes, and enzymes. Intravenous B17 is sometimes used, followed by oral supplementation. Working with a nutritionist can help you eat a diet that supports your health and immune system. However, IV supplementation of various vitamins to allow them to be directly absorbed can help in various ways. For example, Apatone, a solution of vitamin K3 and vitamin C, appears to inhibit the growth of cancer cells, slowing or even halting tumor development.
- Eating more fruits and vegetables. This helps your body get healthier, reduces cancer risk in general, and can even help you quit smoking.
There are many more natural therapies, and you can work with a doctor and other healthcare professionals to establish the right regimen for you depending on your lifestyle and the type and stage of throat cancer. These therapies can help many people avoid the debilitating side effects of radiation from radiotherapy or chemotherapy. You can also work with a complementary doctor on remedies to mitigate the symptoms if you do choose chemotherapy.
When To Call a Doctor
If you have the symptoms listed above and they are not normal for you or associated with an obvious cause (such as the cold that has been going around the office), you should talk to your doctor or other healthcare professionals.
Note that in most cases these symptoms do not mean throat cancer. For example, a persistent sore throat can be caused by viral infection, exposure to environmental pollutants, allergies, chronic tonsillitis, or laryngopharyngeal reflux, which is a form of acid reflux. All of these are much more common than cancer.
If you have been diagnosed with throat cancer and want to avoid harsh traditional treatments, you should talk to Immunity Therapy Center. We offer a variety of alternative therapies to help treat your throat cancer.
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.
- American Cancer Society. Key Statistics for Laryngeal and Hypopharyngeal Cancers. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/laryngeal-and-hypopharyngeal-cancer/about/key-statistics.html
- Yale Medicine. Throat Cancer. https://www.yalemedicine.org/conditions/throat-cancer
- American Cancer Society. Tests for Laryngeal and Hypopharyngeal Cancers. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/laryngeal-and-hypopharyngeal-cancer/detection-diagnosis-staging/how-diagnosed.html
- NHS. Treatment – Laryngeal (larynx) cancer. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/laryngeal-cancer/treatment/
- St. Luke’s Hospital. Complementary and Alternative Medicine. https://www.stlukes-stl.com/health-content/medicine/33/000245.htm
- Cleveland Clinic. Chronic Pharyngitis. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/22280-chronic-pharyngitis
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.