Throat cancer is cancer that develops in the throat tissue. The main symptoms of this condition are voice changes, difficulty swallowing , and sore throat.
The throat plays an important role in the process of breathing and digestion. In the process of breathing, the throat plays a role in flowing air from the nose to the trachea and vice versa. Meanwhile, in the digestive process, the role of the throat is to carry food from the mouth to the esophagus (oesophagus).
Throat cancer can develop in the parts and tissues that make up the throat, such as the opening of the nasal passages and mouth (pharynx), tonsils (tonsils), and the respiratory tube that contains the vocal cords (larynx).
Based on research in 2020, one type of throat cancer, namely nasopharyngeal cancer, is ranked as the fifth most common cancer in Indonesia. It is known that there are more than 19,000 cases and 13,000 deaths that occur due to this cancer.
Causes of Throat Cancer
Throat cancer occurs due to gene mutations (changes) in throat cells. These mutations trigger uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells.
The cause behind the mutation process is not known with certainty. However, there are a number of factors that are thought to increase a person's risk of developing throat cancer, namely:
- Smoking habit
- Alcohol addiction
- Infection with the HPV virus (human papillomavirus) or gastric acid disease (GERD)
- Poor condition of teeth and mouth
- Less intake of vegetables and fruits
- Exposure to chemicals, such as asbestos, nickel, and sulfur
- Weak immune system, for example due to suffering from HIV/AIDS, experiencing malnutrition, or taking immunosuppressant drugs
- Hereditary diseases, such as Fanconi anemia or ataxia telangiectasia
Throat Cancer Symptoms
Symptoms of throat cancer appear when cancer cells start to grow and develop. Complaints that can arise due to throat cancer include:
- Difficult to swallow
- Slurred and irregular speech
- Sore throat
- Chronic cough
- Ear pain or ringing
- Lump on neck
- Weight loss drastically
Throat cancer can occur in any part or tissue of the throat. Based on the part affected, throat cancer can be divided into several types, namely:
- Pharyngeal cancer , namely cancer that grows and develops in the pharynx, namely the windpipe from the back of the nose to the trachea
- Laryngeal cancer , which is cancer that grows and develops in the larynx or part of the throat in which there are vocal cords
- Tonsil cancer, which is cancer that grows and develops in the tonsil tissue
When to see a doctor
Immediately consult a doctor if you experience the symptoms above, especially if they don't get better or get worse. Symptoms of throat cancer can be similar to other respiratory tract diseases, especially in the early stages.
It should be noted, throat cancer that is diagnosed at an early stage can be more easily treated than throat cancer that has entered an advanced stage.
HPV infection is a risk factor for throat cancer. If you are at risk of getting HPV, for example unsafe sexual behavior, consult with your doctor about whether or not the HPV vaccine is needed .
In addition, poor dental conditions can also increase the risk of throat cancer. To maintain healthy teeth and mouth, brush your teeth regularly and have your teeth checked by the dentist every 6 months.
If you are diagnosed with throat cancer, do regular checks to the doctor during treatment. You also need regular control to the doctor after treatment is finished. Thus, doctors can detect it earlier if the disease reappears.
Throat Cancer Diagnosis
The doctor will first ask about the patient's symptoms and medical history, as well as the patient's habits that can affect or trigger symptoms, such as smoking or consuming alcoholic beverages. Next, the doctor will carry out a physical examination.
If the patient is suspected of having throat cancer, the doctor will carry out a more detailed examination to confirm the diagnosis, including:
This examination aims to see the condition of the throat using a tool such as a tube equipped with a camera. A tool called an endoscope will be inserted through the nose until it reaches the throat.
Throat tissue biopsy
A biopsy is performed to detect signs of cancer, including the HPV virus, by taking a sample of throat tissue and examining it in a laboratory. The throat tissue sample will be taken using an endoscope.
scan aims to determine the extent of spread of throat cancer. The scanning method used can be in the form of an X-ray, CT scan , MRI, or PET scan.
Throat Cancer Stage
After the patient undergoes an examination, the doctor can determine the stage of throat cancer the patient is suffering from. It is important to know the stage of the cancer so that the treatment given is appropriate and effective.
Based on the severity and spread, throat cancer can be divided into five stages, namely:
At this stage, the tumor is found only in the upper throat wall tissue.
At this stage, the tumor is small (less than 2 cm) and only attacks the throat tissue where the tumor first appeared.
At this stage, the tumor is about 2–4 cm in size and has spread to the surrounding tissue.
At this stage, the tumor is more than 4 cm in size and has spread to the tissues near the throat, including the lymph nodes.
At this stage, the tumor has spread to tissues or organs outside the throat (metastasize).
Throat Cancer Treatment
Throat cancer treatment aims to treat cancer cells and prevent them from spreading to other parts of the body. Treatment will be adjusted to the stage of cancer and the patient's overall health condition.
The following are some common throat cancer treatment methods:
Radiotherapy is a method of treating cancer using high-energy rays to kill cancer cells. Radiotherapy beams can come from external devices (external radiotherapy) or can be installed inside the body near the cancer site (internal radiotherapy).
If the cancer is still in its early stages, sometimes radiotherapy alone is effective enough to treat it. Meanwhile, in advanced cancer, radiotherapy only aims to reduce symptoms and slow the development of cancer.
Chemotherapy is the administration of drugs to kill cancer cells. Common types of drugs used in chemotherapy include c isplatin , paclitaxel , g emcitabine , capecitabine , fluorouracil , or carboplatin.
Chemotherapy can be combined with radiotherapy. This is done because there are several types of chemotherapy drugs that are more effective when accompanied by radiotherapy. However, this can also increase the side effects of both therapies.
Targeted therapy is the use of specific drugs to prevent gene changes or mutations. The drug used in targeted therapy is cetuximab . This therapy can be given with chemotherapy or radiotherapy.
Throat cancer surgery is performed by removing cancerous tissue through a surgical procedure. The ENT doctor will determine the type of surgery based on the stage and location of the cancer growth. Such operating methods include:
This procedure is performed to remove part or all of the affected pharynx. In this operation, the doctor will also repair the part that was removed so that the patient has no difficulty swallowing.
This operation is performed by removing part or all of the larynx, including the vocal cords, which are cancerous. Laryngectomy may be performed to treat early or late stage throat cancer.
Not only through open surgery, removal of cancer cells can also be done with the help of an endoscope . This procedure is usually done when the cancer is still in its early stages.
Apart from removing cancerous tissue, surgery can also be performed to remove lymph nodes near the cancer site. This is done if the cancer cells have spread to the lymph nodes.
If needed, the tissue around the throat that has been attacked by cancer cells will also be removed.
To maximize the treatment of throat cancer, patients are also encouraged to adopt a healthy lifestyle, not smoking and not consuming alcoholic beverages.
In addition to reducing the effectiveness of treatment, smoking and alcohol can slow down the recovery process, and increase the risk of throat cancer recurrence.
Throat Cancer Complications
Complications that can occur due to throat cancer is the spread of cancer cells to other parts of the body ( metastasis ). Complications can also occur due to throat cancer treatment, both surgery, chemotherapy, and radiotherapy.
Some of the complications of throat cancer that occur as a result of its treatment are:
- Difficulty eating and speaking
- Lost voice
- Dry mouth
- Changes in the shape of the mouth and neck
Throat Cancer Prevention
Throat cancer can be prevented by avoiding the risk factors. Some steps to prevent throat cancer are:
- Stop smoking
- Stop or reduce consumption of alcoholic beverages
- Undergoing the HPV vaccination
- Have safe sex to prevent HPV infection
- Increase consumption of vegetables and fruit
- Do sports or physical activity regularly
- Maintain an ideal weight
- Wear personal protective equipment ( PPE ) when working in a place with a high risk of exposure to chemicals