What is Throat Cancer?

Any part of the throat can develop cancer. When that happens, it comes under throat cancer.

Dr Poonam Sachdev
CancerWritten by: Dr Poonam SachdevPublished at: Mar 28, 2012
What is Throat Cancer?

What is Throat Cancer

Throat cancer is a cancer of that affects the head and neck. The throat, or pharynx, is a muscular tube which extends from the back of the nose to the oesophagus (the food pipe, or the tube that goes to the stomach) and the trachea (the windpipe, or the tube that goes to the lungs). It is about 5 inches in length and voice box, or larynx is present below this muscular tube. It forms the passageway for air, food, and liquid, and also helps in forming speech. Throat cancer refers to cancerous growth that develops in the vocal cords, voice box (larynx), or other areas of the throat (such as nasopharynx, oropharynx and other locations withinin the throat).


The commonest most common types of throat cancers are squamous cell carcinomas. Squamous cells are the type of cells that form the lining of the hollow organs of the body, and the passages of the respiratory and digestive tracts.

The three regions of the pharynx where throat cancer can develop include:


  • Nasopharynx (nasopharyngeal cancer): This is the hollow tube which starts behind the nose and runs down the neck to the oesophagus.
  • Oropharynx (oropharyngeal cancer):  This is the middle part of the throat, just behind the mouth, where the oral cavity stops. The base of the tongue, the soft palate, tonsils (also called tonsil cancer), and the side and back wall of the throat (posterior pharyngeal wall) are also included in this.
  • Hypopharynx (hypopharyngeal cancer): This includes the bottom, or lower , part of the throat (down to the oesophagus).


Throat cancers develop more commonly in adults aged 50 and older. These cancers occur more commonly in men as compared to women. Some other risk factors for throat cancer include tobacco use (all forms of tobacco use--  cigarettes, pipes, cigars and chews), alcohol use, poor dental hygiene, exposure to asbestos and a diet lacking in vegetables and fruits. The risk of throat cancer can be reduced by not smoking, not chewing tobacco and limiting alcohol use.


Treatment of throat cancers is complicated and depends on the stage of cancer, location of cancer, your overall health, age and personal preference. As treatment for cancer is not very successful and prognosis remains poor even after treatment in advanced stages of cancer, measures to prevent throat cancer are considered important.


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