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?
Other risk factors include:
- viruses, such as human papillomavirus (HPV) or Epstein-Barr virus (EBV)
- a diet low in fruits and vegetables and vitamin A
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
If you think you have throat cancer, 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.
Other tests for throat cancer include:
- small tissue sample (biopsy) from your throat
- blood tests
- computerised tomography (CT) scan
- magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan
- positron emission tomography (PET) scan
Throat cancer treatment
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.
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Last reviewed: March 2020