Throat cancer occurs when tumors, growths, and other abnormal cells appear in various areas of the throat. While throat cancer doesn't have the same mortality rate as some other cancers, if not caught and treated early, it can pose a great threat. If diagnosed with throat cancer, there are some successful treatments and procedures that can improve your health, but prevention is key.
Below are some crucial steps to take that can help prevent throat cancer.
The two most prominent risk factors are excessive tobacco use and alcohol consumption.
"When it comes to preventing throat cancer, avoiding smoking is important, especially since prolonged tobacco use combined with heavy alcohol consumption severely raises risk," says Dr. Serena Byrd, a head and neck surgeon at Summit Health.
"However, it is important to know that patients who don't smoke or drink can still develop the disease. Therefore, any patient who has a persistent sore throat, ear pain, or a neck mass should be evaluated by a head and neck specialist.”
Other risk factors include:
- Viral infections, like human papillomavirus infection (HPV)
- Regular exposure to toxic materials
- Poor diet
When considering a diet to prevent a condition like throat cancer, you need to ensure you cut back on various foods.
Some of the most notable food items to avoid in excess are red meat, drinks like soda, and processed foods. Excess consumption of any of these can greatly increase the risk for developing throat cancer.
Excess red meat consumption raises the level of carcinogens in the human body, raising the risk of developing various cancers. Likewise, processed meat is outright carcinogenic to humans, and poses a very real threat to cancer prevention efforts. On the other hand, a diet high in fruits and vegetables reduces your risk for head and neck cancers.
In addition to tobacco and alcohol, occupational exposure to toxins in certain dry cleaning agents, asbestos, pesticides, and rubber products may increase risk.
Maintaining a good diet, including lots of fruits and vegetables while avoiding processed meats, abstaining from tobacco use and alcohol, and use of proper protective gear and protocols in the workplace to avoid exposure to toxic substances can go a long way towards prevention.
If you are experiencing one or more of the following symptoms persistently, be sure to contact your doctor:
- Hoarseness or inability to speak
- Painless neck mass
- Sore throat and trouble swallowing
- Neck pain
- Persistent ear pain
- Weight loss
- Lumps in throat
- Throat discomfort
Throat cancer is more of an umbrella term for any malignant cancers that develop within the pharynx or larynx. The main difference between the cancers isn’t in the cancer cells themselves but rather where they appear.
Pharyngeal cancers originate within the pharynx. They can occur anywhere from the upper to lower parts of the throat, from the back of your nose to the opening of the windpipe.
Laryngeal cancers deal with the larynx or voice box.
The human papillomavirus, or HPV, poses a real risk for developing throat cancer. HPV is mainly contracted through sexual contact, and those who smoke are at increased risk for contracting HPV. In addition to throat cancer, HPV can cause various other types of cancers including cervical, vaginal, penile, and throat. Luckily, the HPV vaccine is highly effective in reducing the risk of cancer and is recommended for all people ages 9-45.
If you are diagnosed with throat cancer, there are a few ways to proceed with treatment.
Surgery is the most direct and often most effective treatment for directly dealing with tumors, growths, or other cancerous cells. Depending on the location of the growth, different surgeries include:
- Laser surgery - After a surgeon inserts an endoscope into the pharynx, they use lasers to destroy growths or tumors
- Laryngectomy - This is when a surgeon removes the entire larynx or voice box.
- Pharyngectomy – This is when a surgeon removes part of the pharynx or throat.
Chemotherapy is a standard cancer treatment. Patients receive anti-cancer drugs and follow a particular regimen determined by their doctors. Patients can receive chemotherapy treatment through an IV or in pill form.
Depending on the severity and sizes of the tumors, growths, or other malignant cells, radiation therapy may be an option. There exists internal, external, and systemic radiation therapy. Each uses radiation to eliminate cancerous tissue within the body.
By modifying your diet to include a healthy balance of fruits and vegetables and not partaking in heavy tobacco and alcohol use, you can significantly reduce the risk.
For more information on throat cancer or other otolaryngology issues, visit Summit Health's resources: