As with any other form of cancer, detecting the symptoms of throat cancer in its early stages is the key to successful treatment. Even so, some symptoms are difficult to detect in the beginning and as throat cancer progresses through the stages, those symptoms change accordingly. So too is the prognosis altered as cancer is detected in latter stages. Although there are some generalities, some symptoms are specific to certain stages.
Common Symptoms of Throat Cancer
Unfortunately, many of the most common symptoms of throat cancer can also be indicative of some other underlying condition or illness. For this reason, many people don’t seek medical attention for an accurate diagnosis until the cancer has progressed to a later stage. Throat cancer is identified in stages 0 through 4, with 4 having the least hope for recovery. Throughout any stage, some common symptoms to watch for would include:
- Recurring sinus pain
- Persistent sore throat and/or cough
- Frequent nose bleeds and/or headaches
- Sore (or lump) on throat which doesn’t heal
- Difficulty or pain swallowing
- Persistent hoarseness
- Loss of weight
- Spitting blood
- Changes in breathing sounds; high pitched; wheezing
- Recurring blockage in ears
It is evident that many of those symptoms can be suggestive of any number of other illnesses. For instance, some people are prone to sinus infections so would not be likely to seek medical attention for recurring bouts of sinusitis. Others often experience headaches or nose bleeds. The important thing is to be on the lookout for any changes from the norm. If you experience any of these symptoms and they increase in severity and/or duration it is incumbent upon you to seek medical attention as soon as possible.
Symptoms of Throat Cancer in Advanced Stages
Of course, as the disease progresses the symptoms will advance as well. In the beginning stages some of these symptoms may be present but they will most likely be intermittent. In stages 0 and 1 it is likely that the symptoms will be mild enough, or infrequent enough so as to not be cause for any great concern. However, in stages 2, 3 and 4 the symptoms will get progressively worse as will the prognosis for effective treatment. Some of the symptoms of throat cancer in advanced stages would include:
- Chronic and intense neck pain
- Dental pain along upper teeth
- Difficulty speaking and/or breathing
- Facial swelling especially jaw and eyes; pain
- Chronic infections of the sinuses and ears
- Paralysis of the facial muscles; numbness
As throat cancer can be difficult to recognize in the very early stages, it is common that the disease will be in stage 2 or later before it is diagnosed. If you notice any of these symptoms, time is of the essence. Seek medical attention immediately so that treatments can be initiated without further delay.
How Is Throat Cancer Diagnosed?
Depending on the stage of the cancer, diagnosis might involve a series of tests, some more invasive than others. In the beginning your doctor will most likely do an initial assessment based on family and medical history as well as any contributory risk factors which would include smoking, chewing tobacco and heavy drinking or substance abuse. The doctor will undoubtedly give you a physical examination including a visual look at your mouth and throat as well as feeling the glands in your neck and throat area.
At times he/she may order a series of laboratory tests which could include blood work, a biopsy, an endoscopy, a PET scan, X-rays, a CT scan and even MRIs. In fact, more than one test will probably be conducted in order to make an accurate diagnosis. Upon completion of the diagnostics, your doctor will be able to tell you if throat cancer is present and will likely be able to tell you what stage it has progressed to. From there, treatments will be prescribed and you will undoubtedly be referred to an oncologist.
How Is Throat Cancer Treated?
Similar to any other form of cancer, the most common treatments include removing the malignant cells and of course, stopping the spread. In stage 4 throat cancer the fear is that it has become metastatic which would make it much more difficult to treat. Nonetheless, in early stages typical treatments might include chemotherapy, radiation and surgery either independently or in combination.
If the cancer is in a later stage and deemed to be inoperable, radiation and chemotherapy may reduce the size of the tumor and offer some amount of relief, but the prognosis for a full recovery may be guarded. Statistically, throat cancer detected in stages 0 and 1 can be effectively treated with at least a five year survival rate in up to 90% of patients while later stages the five year survival rate falls to 30% or less. If the cancer has metastasized the prognosis for effective treatment may be even less than that.
Prevention is always of prime importance which would mean that if you are within any of the high risk groups you should have periodic routine exams. If you smoke, chew tobacco, drink or have any other type of substance addiction you should make every effort to stop immediately. People with a family history of throat cancer should mention this to their physicians and during annual check-ups your doctor may do some routine diagnostics as a precautionary measure. If you experience any of the above symptoms or fall within a risk group, consult your doctor as soon as possible to rule out throat cancer. Keep in mind that the earlier it is diagnosed the better your chances become for a complete recovery.