Throat Cancer is 6th most common type of Cancer
Although head, throat and neck cancer is the sixth most common type of cancer worldwide, awareness of it is low, and the majority of diagnoses are not made until the disease is in an advanced stage, resulting in limited treatment choices and hence a reduction in the chance of survival.
This disease killed one of my Grandfathers back in the 1960’s. He volunteered for a clinical study, but he died alone on a bathroom floor at home in the middle of the night by suffocation. Certainly, not a nice way to die, but it appears this is how most people today die from Throat Cancer, but mostly in a bed. At the time my Grandfathers Throat Cancer was attributed to smoking.
Today the understanding of the cause of throat cancers has changed dramatically. Historically most cancer of the head and neck was attributed to tobacco and alcohol use. Today we know that this explanation is both incomplete and often inaccurate.
Definition of throat cancer
Cancer that forms in tissues of the hollow tube inside the neck that starts behind the nose and ends at the top of the windpipe and esophagus. Throat cancer includes cancer of the upper part of the throat behind the nose, the middle part of the hollow tube, and the bottom part of the hollow tube. Cancer of the voice box may also be included as a type of throat cancer. Most throat cancers are a cancer that begins in thin, flat cells that look like fish scales.
Causes of Throat Cancer
Anywhere from 50% to 90% of throat cancers are known to be caused by HPV (human papilloma virus) infection. Testing the cancers shows evidence of HPV infection.
There are two types of HPV’s found in cancers. These cancers are designated HPV+ and HPV-.
HPV+ cancers occur in people who may or may not have a history of excessive tobacco or alcohol use. HPV negative, HPV-, cancers of the throat are virtually always found in those with the history of heavy alcohol and tobacco use.
The human papilloma virus (HPV) can cause a sexually transmissible viral infection. Eighty percent (80%) of people between 18 and 44 have had oral sex with an opposite sex partner, likely accounting for much of the oral HPV infections observed. Oral sex is now indicated as a major cause of throat cancers.
Today, the major causes appear to be related to;
- Performing oral sex
- Smoking – Both smoking and “smokeless” tobacco (snuff and chewing tobacco)
- All forms of smoking are linked to these cancers, including cigarettes, cigars, and pipes. Tobacco smoke can cause cancer anywhere in the mouth and throat as well as in the lungs, the bladder, and many other organs in the body. Pipe smoking is particularly linked with lesions of the lips, where the pipe comes in direct contact with the tissue. However, cigarette smokers have a lifetime increased risk for head and neck cancers that is a 5 to 25-times increase over the general population. The ex-smoker’s risk for throat cancer begins to approach the risk in the general population twenty years after stopping smoking.
- Smokeless or chewing tobacco is linked with cancers of the cheeks, gums, and inner surface of the lips. Cancers caused by smokeless tobacco use often begin as white and gray patches or a fiery red patch inside the mouth.
- Alcohol use: At least three quarters of people who have an HPV- mouth and throat cancer consume alcohol frequently. People who drink alcohol frequently are six times more likely to develop one of these cancers. People who both drink alcohol and smoke often have a much higher risk than people who use only tobacco alone.
- Sun exposure: Just as it increases the risk of skin cancers, ultraviolet radiation from the sun can increase the risk of developing cancer of the lip. People who spend a lot of time in sunlight, such as those who work outdoors, are more likely to have cancer of the lip.
- Chewing betel nut: This prevalent practice in India and other parts of South Asia has been found to result in cancer of the cheeks. This cancer accounts for less than 10% of oral cavity cancers in the United States but is the most common oral cavity cancer in India.
- Age: The incidence of mouth and throat cancers increases with advancing age. These cancers can develop at any age but occur most frequently in people aged 45 years and older.
- Sex: Mouth and throat cancer is twice as common in men as in women. This may be related to the fact that more men than women use tobacco and alcohol, although with more women smoking this ratio is likely to change.
This list of causes does not provide all the known causes of throat cancer, just the most common ones.
Incidence rates of mouth and throat cancers vary widely from country to country. These variations are due to differences in risk factor exposures.
Mouth and Throat Cancer Symptoms
People may not notice the very early symptoms or signs of oral cancer. People with throat or mouth cancer may notice any of the following signs and symptoms:
- A painless lump on the lip, in the mouth, or in the throat
- A sore on the lip or inside the mouth that does not heal
- A painless white or red patch on the gums, tongue, or lining of the mouth
- Unexplained pain, bleeding, or numbness inside the mouth
- A sore throat that does not go away
- Pain or difficulty with chewing or swallowing
- Swelling of the jaw
- Hoarseness or other change in the voice
- Pain in the ear
These symptoms are not necessarily signs of cancer. Mouth sores and other symptoms may be caused by many other less serious conditions.
Mouth and Throat Cancer Diagnosis
Cancers of the mouth and throat are often found on routine dental examination. If a dentist should find an abnormality, he or she will probably refer the person to a specialist in ear, nose, and throat medicine (an otolaryngologist) or recommend that they see a primary health care professional right away.
No blood tests can identify or even suggest the presence of a cancer of the mouth or throat. After an initial visual examination, the appropriate next step is to remove a sample of cells or tissue (or the entire visible lesion if small) for examination.
If the lesion is cancerous, the next step is to stage the cancer. This means to determine the size of the tumor and its extent, that is, how far it has spread from where it started. Staging is important because it not only dictates the best treatment but also the prognosis for survival after treatment.
Mouth and Throat Cancer Treatment
Treatment for head and neck cancer depends on the type of cancer and whether it has affected other parts of the body. Factors such as age, overall health, and whether the patient has already been treated for the cancer before are included in the treatment decision-making process.
The decision of which treatment to pursue is made with the doctor (with input from other members of the care team) and family members, but ultimately, the decision is the patient’s.
A patient should be certain to understand what will be done and why, and what he or she can expect from the choices. With oral cancers, it is especially important to understand the side effects of treatment.
Like many cancers, head and neck cancer is treated on the basis of cancer stage. The most widely used therapies are surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy.
- The medical team may include an ear, nose, and throat surgeon; an oral surgeon; a plastic surgeon; and a specialist in prosthetics of the mouth and jaw (prosthodontist), as well as a specialist in radiation therapy (radiation oncologist) and medical oncology.
- Because cancer treatment can make the mouth sensitive and more likely to be infected, the doctor will probably advise the patient to have any needed dental work done before receiving treatments.
- The team will also include a dietitian to ensure that the patient gets adequate nutrition during and after therapy.
- A speech therapist may be needed to help the patient recover his or her speech or swallowing abilities after treatment.
- A physical therapist may be needed to help the patient recover function compromised by loss of muscle or nerve activity from the surgery.
- A social worker, counselor, or member of the clergy will be available to help the patient and his or her family cope with the emotional, social, and financial toll of your treatment.
Head and neck cancer is highly curable if detected early, usually through surgery, but radiation therapy may also play an important role, while chemotherapy is often ineffective.
A new study (European Society for Radiotherapy and Oncology (ESTRO). “New research shows possibility of cure for HPV positive throat cancer patients.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 12 February 2015. () showed that “Patients with cancer of the throat caused by the Human Papilloma virus (HPV+) have a better prognosis than those who are negative for the virus (HPV-). Now, for the first time, researchers have shown with convincing evidence that a group of patients with HPV+ cancer of the oropharynx (the part of the throat located behind the mouth, that makes up the region of the tonsils and the back part of the tongue where it connects to the swallowing part of the throat), can be cured in some cases even after disease has spread to distant organs in the body, like the lungs.”
From the research I have done for this article it looks like the best way to reduce the chance of getting Throat Cancer is to;
- Stop having oral sex
- Stop smoking
- Reduce your alcohol intake
- Boost your immune system using Wasabia japonica capsules
- Visit your Dentist on a regular basis.
1. Andre K, Schraub S, Mercier M, Bontemps P (1995). “Role of alcohol and tobacco in the aetiology of head and neck cancer: a case-control study in the Doubs region of France”. Eur J Cancer B Oral Oncol 31B (5): 301–9.