Cancer is a disease where cell mutations result in abnormal cells that divide and multiply in an uncontrolled manner throughout the body. Often this uncontrolled growth results in the malignant growths known as tumors.
Throat cancer is a specific type of cancer that can affect the vocal cords, voice box, and other parts of the throat, including the oropharynx and tonsils.
Throat cancer is typically categorized as either laryngeal or pharyngeal cancer. Compared to other cancers, throat cancer is considered to be relatively uncommon.
Estimates put out by the National Cancer Institute suggest only 0.3 percent of individuals will be diagnosed with laryngeal cancer within their lifetime, while 1.2 percent will be diagnosed with pharyngeal or oral cavity cancer.
5 Early Throat Cancer Symptoms and Signs
Nevertheless, understanding the throat cancer symptoms is important. Dive into the thick of it now.
1. Trouble Swallowing
The most common symptom is having trouble swallowing. This usually coincides with a sensation similar to food being stuck in the chest or throat, and it may even be mistaken for choking.
In medical terms, this symptom is know as dysphagia, and it will often start mild but become progressively worse as time goes on and the esophagus gets smaller. It’s not uncommon for individuals to change their eating habits and diet without even realizing it as swallowing becomes more difficult.
They’ll typically begin to chew their food much more slowly and carefully, and take smaller bites of food. As cancer continues to grow larger, the problem will likely worsen.
The changes in eating habits often progress further as individuals start preferring soft foods that more easily make their way past the shrinking esophagus. Patients usually begin to avoid foods such as meat and bread, as it’s easier for them to get stuck in the throat.
Dysphagia may end up becoming so severe that the patient may opt to avoid solid foods entirely and make the switch to an all-liquid diet. As cancer continues to grow even liquids may begin to become difficult to swallow.
2. A Persistent Cough
A persistent cough brought on as a result of throat cancer will not usually differ much from any other cough. The cough may occur randomly throughout the day, or only at night, which can interfere with sleep and result in fatigue throughout the following day.
A large number of individuals diagnosed with respiratory tract cancers were either former smokers or current smokers who may have had smoker’s cough at one point.
If throat cancer develops, the cough may not differ from how it was previously, but sometimes it can be, including sounding harsher and being more irritating.
3. Swollen Lymph Nodes in The Neck
Swollen lymph nodes in the neck may be a sign of a lot of different things, most of which are not incredibly serious. Some common causes include infections, colds, open wounds, or diseases that attack the immune system, but these will usually go away with simple treatment.
Sometimes, though, cancerous cells may make their way through the bloodstream and end up taking up residence in the lymph nodes, though it’s possible the cancer cells may have actually started there as well.
If a patient is unable to explain what might potentially be causing their swollen lymph nodes, it is probably time to contact a doctor. If the lymph nodes are half an inch or larger, something is likely wrong.
They should also be moveable and should not feel rubbery or hard. The skin around them should not be warm, red, or irritated either.
4. Wheezing and Hoarseness
Wheezing and hoarseness is another pair of potential throat cancer symptoms. It is characterized by a high-pitched whistle-like sound produced when individuals breathe, and is usually caused by a constricted air passage.
Wheezing is commonly associated with asthma, though it can also be brought on as a result of a tumor in the lungs. If patients find they are wheezing and have any other symptoms such as shortness of breath, it may be time to contact a doctor.
Hoarseness is defined as an alteration or weakening of the voice, and it can be caused by a variety of different conditions, though it is a common symptom of lung cancer.
Speech originates from the larynx, or voice box, which is found in the throat. It’s possible for the larynx to become inflamed either due to overuse or an infection.
This inflammation is commonly known as laryngitis. As a side effect of chemotherapy, sometimes lung and throat cancer patients will come down with laryngitis.
5. Unusual Changes in Voice
It’s not uncommon for cancer to form on the glottis, or vocal cords, which will typically result in unusual changes in the patient’s voice, including the previously discussed hoarseness.
This symptom is helpful as its an effective way of catching different throat cancers in early stages. If patients notice their voice has changed, and it has not begun to improve within two weeks, they should consult a doctor.
If cancer did not originate in the vocal cords, the changes in the patient’s voice might not occur until it has spread or developed into its later stages.
Unfortunately, these cancers are often not noticed until they’ve begun to affect to lymph nodes. It’s important to take any changes in voice seriously, as they can often indicate an underlying problem.
If patients find their vocal range has diminished, or they’re unable to project their voice as they once were able to, it’s usually a sign a checkup is needed.