Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

beginning of content

Throat cancer

3-minute read

Throat cancer refers to cancer that begins in the throat.

Throat cancer can be successfully treated if it is diagnosed early. If you have any concerns, make an appointment to visit your doctor.

What is throat cancer?

The throat (also called pharynx) is a tube that runs from the back of the nose to your gullet (oesophagus) and the windpipe (trachea).

Throat cancer occurs when malignant tumours grow in the pharynx or larynx (voice box), oesophagus or thyroid. Cancers that grow in the throat area, sinuses, tongue or salivary glands are called head and neck cancers.

What causes throat cancer?

You are at an increased risk of throat cancer if you smoke (cigarettes, cigars or pipes) and drink alcohol, especially if you have 3 or more drinks a day.

Other risk factors include:

Throat cancer symptoms

People with throat cancer might have some or all of the following:

  • pain in the throat or around the breastbone
  • a sore throat or cough that won’t go away
  • a hoarse voice
  • trouble swallowing
  • feeling like there's something stuck in their throat
  • blood in their phlegm
  • shortness of breath
  • lumps in the neck or throat
  • sudden weight loss

Throat cancer diagnosis

Your doctor will talk to you and examine you. You might be referred to a specialist such as an ear nose and throat specialist or a head and neck surgeon.

You might have an examination of your throat and larynx using an endoscope, a thin, flexible, lighted tube with a camera at the tip. This could be a nasendoscopy, laryngoscopy or bronchoscopy.

Your doctor might send you for tests such as:

Throat cancer treatment

The main treatment for throat cancer is surgery or radiotherapy. Chemotherapy might also be offered, usually with radiotherapy.

Living with throat cancer

You may feel your cancer experience doesn’t end on the last day of treatment. Take time to adjust to the physical and emotional changes and re-establish a new daily routine at your own pace. Your doctor will continue to monitor your health and confirm the cancer hasn’t come back.

If you have surgery to treat your throat cancer, you might have problems after surgery, such as:

  • a sore throat
  • breathing difficulties, which might mean you need a breathing hole (tracheostomy) in your lower neck
  • problems eating, which might mean you need a feeding tube inserted
  • trouble swallowing
  • scars and wounds that need time to heal

If you have more extensive surgery, you might have to adjust to greater changes. Talk to your doctor about what to expect or for referral to support services and resources.

Last reviewed: February 2018

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

Squamous cell carcinoma of the tonsil (throat cancer) | myVMC

Squamous cell carcinoma of the tonsil is a type of throat cancer. Like all head and neck cancers, it is associated with alcohol and tobacco use.

Read more on myVMC – Virtual Medical Centre website

Throat cancer (laryngeal cancer; oral cancer) information | myVMC

Cancer of the larynx, Squamous Cell Carcinoma of the Larynx or laryngeal cancer accounts for 20% of all head and neck cancers. Smoking increases the risk.

Read more on myVMC – Virtual Medical Centre website

What is Thyroid Cancer? - Cancer Council Victoria

On this page: The thyroid gland | Thyroid hormones | What is thyroid cancer? | What types are there? | What are the signs and symptoms? | What are the risk factors? | How common is it? | Key points

Read more on Cancer Council Victoria website

Thyroid Cancer (Follicular Cell of the Thyroid) | myVMC

Follicular cell of the thyroid is a cancer that affects the follicular cells of the thyroid, a gland that produces energy-regulating hormones.

Read more on myVMC – Virtual Medical Centre website

Thyroid Cancer - Targeting Cancer

About Radiation Oncology What is Radiation Oncology? What is Radiation Therapy? Benefits and Effectiveness Side Effects Treatment Process Radiation Oncology Team Radiation Oncologists Radiation Therapists Radiation Oncology Medical Physicists Radiation Oncology Nurses GPs/Health Professionals FAQs Radiation Therapy External Beam Radiation Therapy (EBRT) Intensity-Modulated Radiation Therapy (IMRT) Image-Guided Radiation Therapy (IGRT) Proton Therapy Stereotactic Radiosurgery (SRS) Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy (SBRT) Brachytherapy Brachytherapy for Prostate Cancer Brachytherapy for Cervix Cancer Brachytherapy for Uterine Cancer Treatment By Cancer Type Benign Disease Arteriovenous Malformation (AVM) Pituitary Adenoma Meningioma Thyroid Eye Disease Vestibular Schwannoma (Acoustic Neuroma) Bladder Cancer Brain Cancer Breast Cancer Cervix Cancer Colorectal Cancer Head and Neck Cancer Leukaemia Liver Cancer Lung Cancer Lymphoma Oesophageal Cancer Pancreatic Cancer Palliative Treatment Prostate Cancer Sarcomas Skin Cancer and Melanoma Stomach Cancer Thyroid Cancer Upper Gastro-Intestinal Cancer Uterine Cancer Our Stories Supporter Statements Patient Stories Treatment Team Videos about Radiation Therapy Talking To Your Doctor Thyroid Cancer Thyroid Cancer is an uncommon cancer but is increasing in incidence

Read more on Radiation Oncology Targeting Cancer website

Head and neck cancer - Cancer Pathways

The optimal cancer care pathway outlines critical steps in the patient journey. The pathway describes the optimal cancer care that should be provided at each step.

Read more on Cancer Council Victoria website

Head & Neck Cancer Treatment - Targeting Cancer

Learn more about head and neck cancer and the different treatments available.

Read more on Radiation Oncology Targeting Cancer website

Platinum therapy (anti-cancer treatment) information | myVMC

Platinum therapy is a type of chemotherapy used to treat ovarian cancer, testicular cancer, lung cancer, bladder cancer, and head and neck cancer.

Read more on myVMC – Virtual Medical Centre website

Head and neck cancer - Cancer Council Australia

Find out information about head and neck cancer, including incidence and mortality, screening, symptoms and diagnosis, causes, prevention, treatment and prognosis.

Read more on Cancer Council Australia website

Head & neck cancers

Head and neck cancer is a general term used to refer to a range of different cancers that start developing in the head and neck region of the body. This includes the oral cavity, the tongue, palate, jaw, salivary glands, the throat (larynx) and the nose.

Read more on Cancer Council Victoria website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice and information you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo