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Home > Cancers We Treat > Head and Neck Cancer > Throat (Oropharyngeal) Cancer

Throat (Oropharyngeal) Cancer

Definition

Throat cancer is a disease in which cancer cells grow in an abnormal way in the throat.

Cancer occurs when cells in the body—in this case throat cells—divide without control or order. Normally, cells divide in a regulated manner. If cells keep dividing uncontrollably when new cells are not needed, a mass of tissue forms, called a growth or tumor. The term cancer refers to malignant tumors, which can invade nearby tissues and spread to other parts of the body. A benign tumor usually does not invade or spread.

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Throat Cancer
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Risk

Factors that can increase your chance of developing throat cancer include:

  • Age: 40 or older
  • Sex: male
  • Smoking or use of any tobacco products
  • Excessive alcohol consumption
  • Family history
  • Vitamin A deficiency
  • Diet low in fruits and vegetables
  • Suppressed immune system
  • Infections caused by certain viruses such as:
    • Epstein-Barr virus
    • Human papillomavirus
  • Radiation exposure
  • Excess consumption of cured meats or fish
  • Marijuana use
  • Exposure to certain materials such as in:
    • Nickel refining
    • Woodworking
    • Working with textile fibers

Symptoms

Possible symptoms include:

  • Sore throat
  • Feeling that something is caught in the throat
  • Difficulty chewing or swallowing
  • Difficulty moving the jaw or tongue
  • Voice changes or hoarseness
  • Change in voice quality
  • Pain in the head, throat, or neck
  • Lump in the neck
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Coughing blood

Diagnosis

Your bodily fluids and tissue may be tested. This can be done with:

  • Fine needle aspiration
  • Incisional biopsy

Your internal structures may need to be viewed and examined. This can be done with:

  • Laryngoscopy
  • Panendoscopy
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan
  • Positron emission tomography (PET) scan
  • Computed tomography (CT) scan

Treatment

Treatment depends on the stage of the cancer:

  • Surgery
  • Radiation Therapy
  • Chemotherapy
  • Combined Modality Therapy

Prevention

To reduce your chance of getting throat cancer, take the following steps:

  • Don't smoke or use tobacco products. If you do smoke or use tobacco products, get help to quit.
  • Drink alcohol only in moderation. Moderate alcohol intake is two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women.
  • Eat a healthful diet, one that is low in saturated fat and rich in whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.
  • See your doctor and dentist regularly for check-ups and cancer screening.
Make an Appointment

Call 434.924.9333

Head & Neck Cancer Support Group

When: Last Thursday of each month, 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. (Third Thursday in Nov. and Dec.)
Where: Fontaine Research ParkVirginia Department of Forestry, 900 Natural Resources Drive, Conference Room #1175
Cost: Free; parking validation provided
Contact: Paula Capobianco, MSW, 434.982.4091
Find out more