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Throat Cancer


What Is Throat Cancer?

Throat cancer occurs when normal cells in the throat change into abnormal cells and grow uncontrollably. Throat includes various organs called pharynx or larynx or epiglottis. Cancer of all these areas is commonly referred to as throat cancer.


Symptoms of throat cancer can vary according to the region where the cancer is. The following are common symptoms:

  • Bleeding in the mouth

  • Changes in voice or hoarseness of voice

  • Difficulty in swallowing

  • Weight Loss

  • Sore throat

  • Lump in the neck

  • White patches in tongue and mouth



  • The exact cause of throat cancer is not yet known. But certain factors can cause throat cancer in the long term. These factors are:

  • Drinking an excessive amount of alcohol

  • Tobacco products such as cigars, cigarettes or chewing tobacco

  • Infection by HPV (Human Papillomavirus)

  • Infection by Epstein – Barr virus, a virus found in the saliva.


The most common system used for staging throat cancer is the TNM system. 

  • T stands for Tumour. It is used to describe the size of the tumour. It also helps to determine whether tumour has grown into other parts of the organ or tissues around the organ. It is represented by a range of 1 to 4. The higher the number means the larger the tumour.

  • N stands for Lymph Nodes. It helps determine if the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes around the organ. NX means the impact on lymph nodes cannot be determined. N0 means cancer hasn’t spread to nearby lymph nodes while N1, N2 and N3 means cancer has spread to lymph nodes. N1 to N3 also shows the range that how many lymph nodes are affected.

  • M stands for Metastasis. It is used to determine if the cancer has spread to other parts of body through blood or lymphatic system. MX means the metastasis cannot be determined; M0 means cancer has not spread to other body parts while M1 indicates that it has spread to other body parts.

  • Sometimes lowercase letters like a, b and c is used to divide the tumour, lymph nodes and metastasis into sub categories. Also lowercase “is” is used to denote carcinoma in situ. For e.g. Tis

For The Convenience Of Grading The Extent Of Spread Of Cancer, The Cancer Is Classified Into 4 Broad Stages.


Stage 0

This stage of cancer is also known as carcinoma in situ. The cells lining the throat are showing abnormal growth and have the potential to turn cancerous

Stage I

The tumor is small (2 cm or less across) and is localized to the throat. It has not spread to any nearby lymph nodes and any distant organs.

Stage II

Stage II tumor is larger than 2cm but not more than 4cm. It has not reached the lymph nodes and any distant organs.

Stage III

In this stage, the cancer is either larger than 4cm or has spread to a lymph node on the same side of the neck as the tumor. That lymph node is also smaller than 3 cm. Cancer has not reached any distant organ.

Stage IV

It is the most advanced stage of throat cancer. The tumor may be of any size, and it has spread to nearby tissue, such as the neck, trachea, jaw, esophagus, mouth or other nearby organs.

Cancer is present in a large lymph node (which is more than 3cm in size) on the same side of the neck as the tumor, or multiple lymph nodes of any size on the same side of the neck as the tumor, or it can be one lymph node of any size on the side of the neck opposite the tumor.

Cancer may have spread to distant parts of the body such as the lungs.

Risk Factors

Certain factors increase the chances of developing throat cancer. These are termed as risk factors. The following are some of the risk factors for throat cancer.

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Types Of Throat Cancer

Throat cancer applies to cancer that develops in the throat (called pharyngeal cancer) or in the voice box (called laryngeal cancer). Based on the cells in which it originates, the types of throat cancer are:

  • Squamous cell carcinoma: This is the most common type of cancer that occurs in flat cells lining the throat.

  • Adenocarcinoma: This type of cancer occurs in the glands and is comparatively rare.

Based on the area of origin, the cancer types are:

  • Nasopharyngeal cancer: It begins in the nasopharynx; it is the part of the throat just behind the nose.

  • Oropharyngeal cancer: It begins in the oropharynx; the part of the throat is right behind mouth that includes tonsils.

  • Hypopharyngeal cancer (laryngopharyngeal cancer): It begins in the hypopharynx (laryngopharynx); it is the lower part of the throat, just above your esophagus and windpipe.

  • Laryngeal cancer. This form of cancer develops in the larynx, which is the voice box in the human body.

  • Supraglottic cancer: It is the type of cancer that begins in the upper portion of the larynx and affects the epiglottis, which is a piece of cartilage that helps in blocking food from going into your windpipe.

  • Subglottic cancer: It begins in the lower portion of the voice box, below the vocal cords.

Diagnosis Of Throat Cancer

Throat cancer is diagnosed by the following methods:

  • Doctors use an endoscope to check the abnormalities in the throat and laryngoscope to examine the vocal cords for any sign of cancerous growth.

  • issue Biopsy: A sample of tissue is collected for by fine-needle aspiration technique to check the sample for cancer growth.

  • Imaging tests: These tests include MRI, CT, and PET that help determine the extent of spread of cancer beyond the throat

Treatment Of Throat Cancer

Throat cancer can be treated by one or a combination of the following treatments:

  • Surgical removal of the affected part

  • Radiation therapy to kill cancer cells in the affected area.

  • Chemotherapy to kill or restrict the growth of cancer cells.


There is no definite way by which throat cancer can be prevented. But following these steps can help to a large extent:

  • Stop smoking

  • Drink in moderation or none at all.

  • Choose a diet that consists of fresh fruits and vegetables

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