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Throat Cancer Symptoms

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Throat Cancer?


Updated May 16, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Signs of Throat Cancer
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Throat cancer is a type of cancer that develops in the pharynx, larynx, and other structures of the throat. The symptoms of throat cancer vary based on tumor location. Tumors that develop in the pharynx are referred to as pharyngeal cancer and tumors in the larynx are referenced as laryngeal cancer. The term "throat cancer" encompasses several different types of cancer that can affect the throat.

Throat Cancer Symptoms

While symptoms may vary based on tumor location and type, you should keep an eye out for:
  • persistent cough
  • difficulty swallowing
  • persistent hoarseness of the voice or having to clear the throat frequently
  • sore throat
  • lump in the throat
  • change in the sound of your voice
  • abnormal breathing sounds

If you experience symptoms for two weeks or longer, you should see your doctor for an exam. Symptoms of the disease are vague, meaning they are also the signs of many other illnesses, many of which are less severe than throat cancer. If you are experiencing persistent symptoms, do not wait for them to go away on their own before seeing your doctor. A delay could potentially be the difference between early or late detection of cancer, which may affect treatment outcome.

Symptoms may also come and go. Persistent doesn't always mean constant. For example, you may have a sore throat for a week, then it goes away for a few days, and then returns. Whether your symptoms are constant or erratic, making an appointment to see your doctor is essential to rule out diseases, such as cancer.

What To Expect At The Doctor

First, your doctor will review your health history to determine if you may be at risk for throat cancer. If you are a smoker, drink alcohol, or have any other habits that may be unfavorable to your health, it's important to let your doctor know. While he or she may warn you of how these habits may affect your health and encourage you to stop, they are not passing judgement. Information such as being a smoker or drinker can help the doctor identify if you are at risk of certain diseases, like throat cancer.

Your doctor will perform a routine physical exam, which he or she will fee the throat area for any lumps or other abnormalities. If he or she feels that you may have cancer or other disease, you may referred to an otolaryngologist, also called an ENT specialist. This type of doctor specializes in conditions related to the ears, nose, and throat. To get a better view of the inside of the throat, an ENT doctor may recommend having a laryngoscopy. During this procedure, a thin, fiber optic scope is fed down the throat, allowing the doctor to see the back of the throat, larynx, and vocal cords. During a laryngoscopy, a sample of tissue may be taken if any suspicious areas are discovered. This is called a biopsy and it either confirms or rules out cancer. Source:

National Institutes of Health. Cancer - throat or larynx. Updated 28 Feb 2011. Accessed 18 June 2011.

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