Like any other serious health condition, throat cancer can dramatically change a person’s life. According to the latest statistics, more than 15,000 people are diagnosed with throat cancer every year. While men are roughly five times more likely to suffer from this cancer, women are also at risk.
To help navigate this disease, let’s take a closer look at the warning signs and potential treatments.
Early Warning Signs of Throat Cancer
Understandably, a sore throat usually doesn’t cause much panic. It’s a common symptom of the flu. However, a persistent sore throat that won’t go away should raise a red flag.
If you’ve had throat discomfort for more than a couple of weeks, don’t wait to get evaluated by a doctor.
Trouble swallowing is another early sign of throat cancer. When eating, you may also experience a burning sensation in your throat.
Simply opening your mouth can trigger pain.
Lump in Your Neck
A lump in your neck is one of the biggest indications of throat cancer. This enlarged lymph node will gradually grow bigger over time.
While a bacterial infection can also cause a lump to develop, it will typically go away after a few days.
Most cancers will cause weight loss. Throat cancer is no exception. Because your appetite won’t be good, you will quickly start to shed pounds.
Throat cancer can certainly cause your voice to change. It’ll likely sound as if you have a cold.
As time progresses, you may start to have trouble speaking normally.
Red or White Patches
People who have throat cancer often have red or white patches in their mouth. These patches can be found on the gums, cheek lining, and tongue.
Diagnosing Throat Cancer
There are a few different ways that doctors can diagnose throat cancer.
The first approach is typically to get a sample of throat tissue.
To accomplish this task, doctors may perform a biopsy. It involves using special surgical instruments, which are inserted deep inside the neck. To prevent pain, general anesthesia is administered. Physicians can also use a fine needle to collect samples.
Afterward, the specimens are sent to a lab for testing.
A lighted scope can be used to closely examine the throat area. As the tiny camera moves down the patient’s throat, the doctor will keep an eye out for anything that looks abnormal.
All of the images are transmitted to a video screen.
Imaging tests help diagnose throat cancer. CT scans are especially popular. They provide a 3-D model for doctors to view.
To be on the safe side, your physician may request a chest X-ray. The purpose of getting a chest X-ray is to make sure cancer hasn’t spread.
A barium swallow test is yet another effective way to pinpoint throat problems. It’s a special type of imaging test that requires the individual to swallow barium sulfate, which will show up on X-rays.
Stages of Throat Cancer
When a person has been diagnosed with throat cancer, the next step is to identify the specific stage of the disease. There are four main stages. While stage 1 throat cancer indicates a small tumor, stage 4 throat cancer is more likely to spread throughout the body.
By determining the specific stage, doctors can better develop a better course of treatment.
Treating Throat Cancer
This is often the first plan of action. Radiation therapy is designed to kill the cancerous cells using high-energy beams. While radiation therapy can be effective, it can damage some of the healthy throat tissue in the process.
Extreme exhaustion is the most noticeable side effect of radiation therapy. Skin problems, like blistering and peeling, may occur as well.
Early-stage throat cancer can be successfully treated with surgery. An endoscope will be used during the operation. While the endoscope captures images, doctors are able to maneuver around the patient’s throat. Surgical tools or lasers will be used to get rid of the cancer cells. Depending on the specific location of the tumor, the doctor may need to remove at least part of the voice box.
As expected, there are certain risks involved with throat surgery. Bleeding and infection are always possible.
Because it’ll likely be difficult for the person to swallow food, they will be placed on a strict diet. A feeding tube may be required in the initial days after the surgery.
After getting surgery, chemotherapy helps prevent cancer from returning.
These powerful drugs can significantly drain a person’s energy. For this reason, a patient’s overall health must be up to par beforehand.
Targeted Drug Therapy
Targeted drugs help stifle the growth of tumors. They are often used in combination with chemotherapy or radiation therapy.
Cetuximab is one of the most popular target drugs for throat cancer.
By recognizing the early signs of throat cancer, you stand a much better chance to defeat this disease. Always act as soon as possible.
With so many new treatments being developed, it’s a good idea to stay informed on the latest breakthroughs. Each day, we come closer and closer to finding a cure.