What is Throat Cancer?
Throat cancer occurs when the cells of the vocal cords, larynx (voice box) and pharynx (back of the throat including tonsils and part of the tongue) begin to multiply abnormally. More common in men, and recently receiving a lot of attention because of actor Michael Douglas’ recent diagnosis, risk factors include smoking, drinking alcoholic beverages, a vitamin A deficiency, exposure to asbestos, and having certain types of HPV infections.
Symptoms of throat cancer often start with a change in the sound of a person’s voice, it becomes more raspy or hoarse. Other symptoms include swollen, painful or enlarged lymph nodes in the neck, painful swallowing, sore throat, a persistent cough, coughing up blood, and unexplained weight loss.
Diagnosis is often made from a biopsy of suspected cancerous tissue. The different stages of throat cancer correspond to how far the cancer has spread. The final stage of the cancer is stage 4 throat cancer, meaning the cancer has spread beyond the larynx and pharynx and into the lymph nodes and treatment will require some combination of chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and surgery.
The Prognosis for Stage 4 Throat Cancer
Unfortunately, 70% of people diagnosed with throat cancer are already in the advanced stages of the disease. Although surgery and radiation can be very effective as treatments in the early stages of throat cancer, stage 3 and stage 4 throat cancer require a combination of doctors and treatments. A medical oncologist, a radiation oncologist, a pathologist, a head and neck surgeon, and even a dentist can be involved. It’s also a good idea for the patient to have mental/emotional support from some type of therapist.
Stage 4 throat cancer has spread to tissues around the mouth and lips. The cancer may have spread to the lymph nodes on either of both sides of the neck and will measure at least 4 centimeters. If it has metastasized, it has spread to nearby organs and tissues.
The first treatment could be surgery to remove the tumors, lymph nodes, throat or larynx. It’s possible to do reconstructive surgery on the throat for swallowing. All surgeries carry a risk of bleeding, infection and complications, including losing the ability to speak. Then targeted drug therapy (Cetuximab/Erbitux) can stop the protein of throat cancer cells from growing. A combination of chemotherapy and radiation treatments can be used, but often carry severe side effects.
The 5 year survival rate for people with stage 4 throat cancer is only 30% for patients undergoing a laryngectomy with a neck dissection and post operative radiation. Early detection is crucial, as there is a 90% survival rate for people with stage 1 throat cancer treated with surgery.
Aetna InteliHealth Throat Cancer: https://www.intelihealth.com/IH/ihtIH/c/9339/31203.html
Cancer Connect Throat Cancer: https://news.cancerconnect.com/throat-cancer/
The Mayo Clinic: https://www.mayoclinic.com/health/oral-and-throat-cancer/
The National Cancer Institute Cancer Statistics: https://www.cancer.gov/statistics/finding