What is throat cancer?
- Cancer that develops in the larynx or the voice box or in any other part of the wind pipe is known as laryngeal or throat cancer.
- The throat region consists of two main tubes – the oesophagus (food pipe) and the wind pipe. The larynx is at the top of the wind pipe.
- It has a set of two vocal cords which produce sound when air passes through them. Since the setting of the vocal cords is different for each individual, the sound produced by them also varies, giving each person his or her own distinct voice.
How is it caused?
- Smoking and use of tobacco is a major risk factor for developing throat cancer. Alcoholism also predisposes an individual to cancer of the throat.
- Men are 10 times more likely than women to develop laryngeal cancer. Men over the age of 50 years are more at risk of developing this condition.
What are the symptoms?
- Symptoms of throat cancer in the earliest phase resemble those of a sore throat.
- There may be hoarseness of voice with a feeling similar to that during a cold.
- There may also be slight pain in the throat with a persistent dry cough
- In some cases, there may be coughing with blood in the sputum.
- When the tumour enlarges, the patient may have difficulty in swallowing and food may often go into the windpipe.
- Breathing may become laborious and may emit a high pitched sound.
- There may be bad breath, loss of weight and loss in appetite partly due to the inability to eat without choking.
How is it diagnosed?
- Laryngoscopy is the method to diagnose laryngeal cancer. in this procedure, a small tube is inserted into the throat via the nose or the mouth.
- The doctor either uses a mirror to see the various parts of the larynx or the tube itself may be lighted to allow the doctor a better view of the area.
- A local anaesthetic is given to prevent gagging. The procedure is otherwise painless.
- If the doctor detects any abnormality in the throat area, a throat X-ray, CT scan or MRI may be ordered. A biopsy of the larynx is usually needed to confirm the diagnosis.
What is the treatment?
- Treatment depends upon the type of tumour and the extent of spread of the cancer.
- In most cases, radiation therapy or surgery are the common treatment methods.
- Surgery may involve total removal of the larynx (laryngectomy) or partial cutting away of the vocal cords. In both the procedures, a hole is made in the neck through which a tube is inserted into the windpipe to help the patient to breathe.
- This may be temporary or permanent. In cases where a laryngectomy is performed, the patient has to learn a new way to speak with the help of artificial devices and this requires extensive speech therapy.
- Radiation therapy is also a common method of treatment. Cancerous cells from a localised area are destroyed with the help of high powered rays.
- Radiation therapy is used in conjunction with surgery in cases where there is recurrence of the tumour after surgery. Chemotherapy may be done in case the cancer has spread to other areas of the body.