Facts and Figures About Throat Cancer
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 CancerIn 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.