- Throat cancer includes cancers that grow in the pharynx, oesophagus or thyroid.
- The main risk factors for throat cancer are smoking, drinking alcohol and infection with certain viruses.
- Throat cancer can cause symptoms such as a lump in the throat, a sore throat or cough that won’t go away and trouble swallowing.
- Throat cancer is usually treated with surgery. This is sometimes followed by radiotherapy and/or chemotherapy.
What is throat cancer?
Throat cancer occurs when a tumour grows 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 are the symptoms of throat cancer?
Common symptoms of throat cancer include:
- lumps in the neck or throat
- pain in the throat or around the breastbone
- a sore throat or cough that won’t go away
- a hoarse voice
- trouble swallowing
- coughing up phlegm with blood in it
- unexplained weight loss
What causes throat cancer?
Other risk factors include infection with viruses, such as human papillomavirus (HPV) or Epstein-Barr virus (EBV).
How is throat cancer diagnosed?
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 (ENT) specialist or a head and neck surgeon.
You might have an examination of your throat and larynx using an endoscope. This is a thin, flexible, tube with a camera and light at the tip. This could be a nasendoscopy, laryngoscopy or bronchoscopy, depending on where your doctor wants to see inside your body.
Other tests for throat cancer include:
- small tissue sample (biopsy) from your throat
- blood tests
- imaging scans such as x-ray, ultrasound, computerised tomography (CT) scan, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan and positron emission tomography (PET) scan
FIND A HEALTH SERVICE — The Service Finder can help you find doctors, pharmacies, hospitals and other health services.
How is throat cancer treated?
You might also be offered chemotherapy, usually together with radiotherapy.
Your doctor will recommend treatment based on the location and stage of your cancer and your general health. If your case is complicated, your doctor may get advice from a team of different health professionals (multidisciplinary team) experienced in cancer treatment.
What should I expect after having treatment for 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 that the cancer hasn’t come back.
If you have surgery to treat 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 (known as a nasogastric tube)
- trouble swallowing
- wounds that need time to heal
Talk to your doctor about what to expect and for referral to support services and resources.
You can also contact the Cancer Council in your state or territory. For more information, call the Cancer Council Helpline on 13 11 20.
Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.
Last reviewed: July 2022