What is throat cancer?
Cancer is a class of diseases in which abnormal cells multiply and divide uncontrollably in the body. These abnormal cells form malignant growths called tumors. Throat cancer refers to cancer of the voice box, the vocal cords, and other parts of the throat, such as the tonsils and oropharynx.
Throat cancer is often grouped into two categories: pharyngeal cancer and laryngeal cancer. Pharyngeal cancer forms in the pharynx. This is the hollow tube that runs from behind your nose to the top of your windpipe. Laryngeal cancer forms in the larynx, which is your voice box.
Throat cancer is relatively uncommon when compared to other cancers. The National Cancer Institute estimates 1.1 percent of adults will be diagnosed with pharyngeal cancer within their lifetime. An estimated 0.3 percent of adults will be diagnosed with laryngeal cancer within their lifetime.
There are three major types of skin cancer:
- basal cell carcinoma (the most common) and
- squamous cell carcinoma (the second most common), which originate from skin cells, and
- melanoma, which originates from the pigment-producing skin cells (melanocytes) but is less common, though more dangerous, than the first two varieties.
Types of throat cancer
There are several types of throat cancer. Although all throat cancers involve the development and growth of abnormal cells, your doctor has to identify your specific type to determine the most effective treatment plan. The two primary types of throat cancer are:
- Squamous cell carcinoma: Throat cancer of the flat cells lining the throat. It's the most common throat cancer in the United States.
- Adenocarcinoma: Throat cancer of the glandular cells. This type of laryngeal cancer is rare.
Along with these two main types, throat cancer can be broken into two additional types. One type is pharyngeal cancer, which develops in the neck and throat. This includes:
- nasopharynx cancer (upper part of the throat)
- oropharynx cancer (middle part of the throat)
- hypopharynx cancer (bottom part of the throat)
The other type is laryngeal cancer, which affects the larynx or voice box.
Causes and risk factors for throat cancer
Men are more likely to develop throat cancer than women. Certain lifestyle habits increase the risk of developing cancer of the throat, including:
- excessive alcohol consumption
- vitamin A deficiency
- exposure to asbestos
- poor dental hygiene
Throat cancer is also associated with certain types of human papillomavirus infections (HPV). HPV is a sexually transmitted virus. HPV infection is a risk factor for certain oropharyngeal cancers, according to the Cancer Treatment Centers of America.
Throat cancer has also been linked to other types of cancers. In fact, some people diagnosed with throat cancer are diagnosed with esophageal, lung, or bladder cancer at the same time. This is typically because cancers often have the same risk factors, or because cancer that begins in one part of the body can spread throughout the body in time.