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Facts and Figures About Throat Cancer

By: Kathryn Senior PhD - Updated: 27 Sep 2015 | comments*Discuss
Throat Cancer Cancer Soft Palate

As throat is an area of the body rather than a distinct organ, the term throat cancer can mean different things. It is possible for cancer to form in the tissue that you can see at the back of your mouth when you look in the mirror. Cancer can develop in the fleshy part of the throat that forms the soft palate at the top and at base of your tongue.

Tumours can also affect the upper part of the throat that goes up and joins the tissue in the back of the nose. This is usually described as naso-pharyngeal cancer as it occurs on the border of the pharynx and the nasal passage. As the throat goes down towards the oesophagus and windpipe, it passes the voice box with the vocal cords. All of these tissues can develop cancerous growths and the cancers are named according to their exact site.

What Are the Symptoms of Throat Cancer?

The throat is a sensitive part of the body and tumours usually cause some pain or swelling. The trouble is that many common infections do the same thing – so many throat cancers are only diagnosed when they are at quite an advanced stage. Throat cancer is relatively rare, particularly in younger people but an unexplained pain or swelling in the throat that lasts for more than three weeks is worth getting checked out. A sore throat that lasts a long time and you never develop a cold is another danger sign. If you find your voice changes, becomes very croaky and you have a lot of trouble swallowing, these can also be early symptoms of throat cancer. If you are worried, see your doctor. It may not be throat cancer but, if it is, there is more chance that your treatment will be more successful if it is started early.

Facts and Figures About Throat Cancer

In 2004 there were 7697 cases of throat cancer diagnosed in the UK as a whole. In 2005, throat cancer was directly responsible for 2718 deaths. About a quarter of cases occur with no indication of an association with specific risk factors, such as smoking, drinking alcohol or chewing tobacco. In Europe, just over 100 000 people are diagnosed with cancer of the head and neck, which includes throat cancer.

Cancer of the mouth and throat is the sixth most common cancer in the world and the death rate is quite high. Every year, there are just over 400 000 cases of throat and mouth cancer, most of them in developing countries. The rates are particularly high in India and Sri Lanka, possibly because of environmental factors (where it is common the chew the betel nut, rates of mouth and throat cancer are higher).

Throat cancer has a low survival rate – only half of those diagnosed will be alive 5 years later. This is due to the late diagnosis of most mouth and throat cancers. Local treatment can be successful but spread of the cancer can already have happened by the time the cancer is recognised.

What Are the Risk Factors?

Smoking tobacco, chewing tobacco, chewing the betel nut and drinking alcohol regularly and in large amounts all increase the risk of developing throat cancer. If you have multiple risk factors – you smoke and drink heavily – you have an even higher risk. More rarely, throat cancer can be linked to taking in dangerous chemicals at work.

Studies have also shown that people are more at risk of throat cancer if they have an unhealthy diet. Eating lots of fresh fruit and vegetables can be protective. The best way to reduce your risk of throat and mouth cancer is to eat healthily; drink at the recommended levels and don't smoke, or chew tobacco or betel nut.

Treatment for Throat Cancer

The main treatment is surgery. The soft tissues in the throat are accessible and tumours can be removed. Taking away enough of a margin around the cancerous growth can be a problem though. Many people who have had surgical treatment for throat cancer lose their voice box, causing difficulties with speech and communication. Follow up treatments include radiotherapy and chemotherapy as there is no specific drug treatment for throat cancer.

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Bon - 27-Sep-15 @ 5:00 PM
I had squamous cell cancer diagnosed in April 2014. I had 6weeksof radio therapy @ 5 treatments per week,and chemo using cisplatin I was admitted for 6 weeks after a bad reaction to the chemo. Which was discontinued after only 3.treatments. My treatment finished on the 1st of July 2014 .Its now 7months on I've no saliva but after Christmas my eating improved and food didn't taste revolting. I would estimate my sense of taste to be 30 to 40per cent of pre treatment. So long as the food is moist, or if dry I sip water I can manage almost any food including meat. I am quite pleased to report I have just successfully demolished a bacon butty for lunch and it tasted almost normal. I am a 66yr. old male back to work running a heating business with my wife and two sons.Life is good It does get better
Waken - 4-Feb-15 @ 3:49 PM
I was diagnosed with squamous cell cancer in late 2012. Stage four . My treatment was six weeks of radio and two of chemo . Plus surgery to remove lymph glands , a sliver of tongue , my saliva glands and four lower back teeth . I was hospitalised for a total of six weeks due to extreme weakness and weight loss . I left hospital finally in April 2013. Since then my taste buds have improved to about 25 -30% from pre treatment levels . My pre treatment weight 84 kgs . Post treatment 64 kgs. Eating is a chore not a pleasure . Can I expect any improvement , or is it time to move from battle to acceptance ? My body is a wreck , thank goodness the old noddle is in working order ! I am sixty five by the way .
HeartyMarty - 12-Jul-14 @ 4:02 AM
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