Causes of Throat Cancer
Genetic mutations that trigger uncontrolled cell proliferation in the throat cause throat cancer. Though the precise underlying cause of these harmful genetic mutations have not yet been clearly documented, numerous risk factors have been identified. These include the use of tobacco products, excessive alcohol consumption, lack of oral hygiene, and chronic exposure to harmful substances like asbestos, welding gases and chemicals, as well as a low-fiber diet.
Recent research has identified a virus called the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) that triggers cancer mutations in cells. Research has also identified that certain diseases, such as Plummer-Vinson syndrome, can develop into throat cancer.
Human Papilloma Virus (HPV)
Plummer-Vinson syndrome turned into throat cancer
What Does Throat Cancer Look Like?
The symptoms and appearance of throat cancer depend on the specific part of the throat that is affected and the stages of its development. For example, depicted below are three stages of cancer of the tonsils.
1. Early Tonsils Cancer
2. Tonsils Cancer Advancing
3. Tonsils Cancer Advanced
Early symptoms of throat cancer include hoarseness of the voice, difficulty in normal voice production during speech, changes in the voice, sore throat, continuous dry cough, perceivable pain while swallowing saliva, liquid and solid food, pain in the ear, difficulty breathing, a small swelling or a lump in the throat or neck region, and unexplained weight loss. In some types of throat cancer, such as cancer of the larynx, visible early cancer symptoms can be observed during a medical examination. This includes a typical visible red patch with an irregular surface on the voice box.
A Visible Early Cancer Symptom of the Larynx
Symptoms in Advanced Stages
As the cancer advances, aggravation of early symptoms including persistent hoarseness of the voice and difficulty in voice production often lead to permanent changes in the voice or at times, loss of vocal function. The initial pain while swallowing liquids or solid foods may develop into unbearable pain while swallowing.
Advanced Stage HPV Throat Cancer
Advanced Stage Laryngeal Cancer
Advanced throat cancer symptoms include difficulty breathing accompanied by whistle-like sounds, unexplained dry cough potentially with bleeding and mucus, radiating pain and swelling in the jaw, a persistent red patch on the entire oral cavity, a congested and painful feeling in the ear, a lump or swelling in the neck region that increases in size, and marked weight loss.
Lump and Swelling in the Neck
The proliferation of cancer cells alters the function of the associated and neighboring glands, such as the thyroid, and releases chemical substances that alter the metabolic functions of vital organs. This often results in compromised immune functioning, secondary or opportunistic bacterial and viral infections, high blood pressure, low blood pressure; loss of appetite, morbidity, and abnormal lethargy in the advanced stages of throat cancer.
Symptoms Specific to Cancer Location
The symptoms of throat cancer can be specific to its location. For example, in laryngeal throat cancers that begin on the vocal cords, hoarseness or a vocal change is a marked early symptom.
Cancer of the Epiglottis
Cancer of the Vocal Chord
Throat cancer originating in the epiglottis can cause symptoms that include difficulties swallowing and breathing starting in its earliest stages. Throat cancer that originates in the tonsil glands can cause swelling in the neck region that is also evident in the earliest stages.
If you persistently experience any of the aforementioned symptoms, seek immediate medical attention.