What is Throat Cancer?

Throat cancer begins in the larynx (voice box), throat (pharynx), vocal cords, or tonsils. It can also indicate cancers that begin in the thyroid or oesophagus (food pipe). This cancer is mostly observed in the flat cells in the throat's inner lining.

Cancer is a group of diseases that involves the uncontrolled division of the body's cells resulting in the formation of a mass of cells called a tumour.

The throat is a muscular hollow tube that begins at the back of the nose and ends in the neck region. The throat is an important part of the body and helps in eating, speaking and breathing.

Types of throat cancer

  • Nasopharyngeal cancer : As the name suggests, it starts in the nasopharynx. It is the part of the throat at the back of the nose. This cancer targets the tissues of the nasopharynx.
  • Oropharyngeal cancer : This cancer arises in the oropharynx. It is the part of the throat behind the mouth along with the tonsils. The majority of oropharyngeal cancers are squamous cell carcinomas.
  • Hypopharyngeal cancer (laryngopharyngeal cancer) : It is a rare type of throat cancer. It develops in the hypopharynx (laryngopharynx), the throat's lower region, and above the oesophagus and windpipe.
  • Glottic cancer : It is a cancer involving the larynx, which comprises the true vocal cords and anterior and posterior commissures.
  • Supraglottic cancer : It is a supraglottic malignancy (supraglottic cancer) and consists mainly of squamous cell carcinoma (SCC). It develops in the upper part of the larynx and comprises cancer that affects the epiglottis.
  • Subglottic cancer : It is a rare type of malignancy that develops in the lower portion of the larynx, below the vocal cords. This cancer is mostly squamous cell carcinoma and is common in males.

Throat cancer symptoms

Symptoms for throat cancers can include:

When to see a doctor?

Consult your primary care doctor if you notice any of the above signs and symptoms that are persistent. Usually, throat cancer symptoms don't indicate cancer. The doctor will likely recommend a few medical tests and if cancer is suspected, you will be referred to a specialist for further treatment.

Consult our oncologist , ENT specialist for more information and right treatment for throat cancer.

The causes of throat cancer include genetic mutations in the throat cells. These mutations may induce abnormal multiplication of cells and these unhealthy cells continue living even after healthy cells die. The cell division results in a mass of cells called a “tumour”.

Risk Factors

  • Using tobacco in any form, such as smoking and chewing tobacco
  • Excessive alcohol consumption
  • Epstein-barr virus (EBV)
  • Human papillomavirus (HPV)
  • Family history
  • Unhealthy diet

Diagnosis and treatment

Throat cancer can be diagnosed using the following tests or methods:

  • Physical examination : The doctor will inspect the patient's mouth, throat and neck for any unusual findings.
  • Throat biopsy : The doctor removes a small amount of abnormal tissue sample during the biopsy test, which is sent to a pathologist for microscopic examination.
  • Laryngoscopy : Laryngoscopy is the visual physical examination of the vocal cords, larynx (voice box), and the surrounding structures of the throat.
  • Ultrasound test : An ultrasound test or USG scan uses high-frequency sound waves to produce images of the body's internal organs and help detect tumours or a lump.
  • X-rays : A chest x-ray is done to examine a person’s general health or to inspect if cancer has metastasized to the lungs.
  • CT scan : A CT (computerised tomography) scan may provide details about the tumour characteristics and help detect swollen lymph nodes containing cancer cells.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) : A MRI scan provides an in depth view, and assists to find out if the cancer has metastasized to other body organs.
  • PET scan : A PET scan is useful if thyroid cancer doesn't take up radioactive iodine, and the scan can find out whether the cancer has spread to other body parts.


  • Radiation therapy or radiotherapy : Radiotherapy can be recommended as a first-line treatment in early-stage cancers. This therapy is also used to treat recurrent throat cancer.
  • Surgery : Based on the tumour size, surgery will be decided. Surgery to remove all or part of the voice box is known as a laryngectomy, and if only a part of the throat has to be removed, it is called pharyngectomy. Neck dissection surgery is done to excise malignant lymph nodes in head and neck.
  • Chemotherapy : Chemotherapy is a cancer drug used to kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy, along with radiotherapy can treat throat cancers.
  • Targeted drug therapy : Targeted drug therapy is a cancer treatment used to cure laryngeal and hypopharyngeal cancers.
  • Immunotherapy : Immunotherapy is a cancer treatment that stimulates a patient’s immune system to fight malignant cells. This therapy is primarily used to treat advanced throat cancer cases.
  • Supportive (palliative) care : Palliative care is medical care given to provide relief from pain and other side effects of a serious disease. Palliative care specialists are trained healthcare professionals who work with the patient and their families to provide additional support in combination with ongoing medical care.

Care at Medicover Hospitals

At Medicover Hospitals, we have the most trusted team of oncologists and ENT specialists who work together to provide personalised cancer treatment to the patients after evaluating the condition thoroughly. Our medical professionals adopt a comprehensive approach for treating throat cancer and its related complications with utmost care and precision. For throat cancer, we analyse the stage of the cancer and design a specific treatment pathway that is best suited as per the patient’s unique condition.


Find Our Throat Cancer Specialists Here

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Frequently Asked Questions

1. What are the early symptoms of throat cancer?

  • Early symptoms of throat cancer may include:
  • Persistent hoarseness.
  • Difficulty swallowing.
  • A sore throat that doesn't heal.
  • Unexplained weight loss.
  • A persistent cough.

2. How is throat cancer detected?

Throat cancer can be detected through various methods such as physical examinations, imaging tests like CT scans or MRIs, endoscopy, biopsy, and review of tissue samples.

3. What are the symptoms of throat cancer in the early stages?

In the early stages, symptoms of throat cancer may include a persistent sore throat, changes in voice, difficulty swallowing, ear pain, and unexplained weight loss.

4. How is throat cancer tested for?

Throat cancer is tested through a combination of methods, including physical exams, imaging tests, endoscopy to visualize the throat, and taking a biopsy for microscopic examination.

5. How does throat cancer start?

Throat cancer usually starts in the cells lining the throat, also known as the pharynx or larynx. Over time, these cells may become cancerous due to genetic mutations and other factors.

6. How quickly does throat cancer develop?

Throat cancer can develop differently from person to person. In some cases, it might develop slowly, while in others, it could progress faster. Detecting it early and getting treatment is really important for better results.

7. How many cigarettes can cause throat cancer?

There is no specific number of cigarettes that directly cause throat cancer. However, smoking tobacco, especially in excessive amounts and over a prolonged period, increases the risk of developing throat cancer and other related health issues.

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