Throat Cancer

Oral cancer is a cancerous growth anywhere within the oral cavity. This includes the tongue, gums, lips, cheeks, floor, and roof of the mouth. About 90% of oral cancers are caused by squamous cell carcinoma, which are cancer cells that develop in the mucosal lining of the mouth.

Throat cancer is a group of cancers which affect three different areas of the neck. The nasopharynx, which is behind the nose, the oropharynx, which is the back of the mouth and the base of the tongue, and the hypopharynx which is the larynx or voice box. About 75% of these cancers are linked to alcohol and tobacco use. Recently human papillomavirus (HPV) has been linked to an increase in head and neck cancer.

Areas where cancer may occur

The early symptoms of oral and throat cancer may include persistent areas of red or white patches in the oral cavity, ulcers in the mouth which do not heal, loose teeth, bad breath, oral bleeding, unintentional weight loss, hoarseness, neck pain and difficulty swallowing. There are several harmless illnesses which may cause the same symptoms, but if your symptoms persist for more than three weeks, you should see your primary care doctor and be evaluated. Cancer always has a better prognosis when caught early.

To help with diagnosis, an endoscopy can be done. A small camera is inserted into the nose or mouth to view areas that are hard to see and pictures are taken to document these areas. A biopsy may be done, which is a removal of a small amount of tissue and sent to a pathologist to be reviewed. There are two types of biopsies which can be performed. A fine-needle aspiration (FNA) biopsy is when a needle is inserted into the suspicious mass and cells are removed to be reviewed by a pathologist. An incisional biopsy may be undertaken to remove a large piece of tissue and sent to a pathologist for a diagnosis.

Imaging may be obtained using ultrasound, CT scan, PET scan or an MRI to view the surrounding tissue for any abnormalities. If cancer is found, these scans can show where the cancer is and if it has metastasized or spread to any other parts of the body.

If found early and with early treatment, many head and neck cancers can have a very good outcome. Treatment recommendations for cancer vary according to the exact size and location of the tumor. Treatments may include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy or a combination of these. If surgery is needed, it is done under general anesthesia. It may be recommended to remove cancer and an edge of healthy tissue around it with the primary goal of eliminating cancer.  If the lymph nodes of the neck are involved, surgery may be recommended to remove the affected lymph nodes with the importance of preserving the function of the surrounding tissue, nerves and blood vessels.