Throat Cancer 
INTRODUCTION


What do we mean by 'Throat Cancer'? It is a colloquial umbrella term that encompasses several specific types of cancer in the neck. These include Hypopharyngeal Cancer, Nasopharyngeal Cancer, Oropharyngeal Cancer and Laryngeal Cancer. To read in more detail about any of these cancer types, click on the relevant links throughout this article. If none of these are the cancer type you're looking for, please explore the information about other types of Head and Neck Cancers.

 
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1. What is Throat Cancer?

Throat Cancer is a colloquial umbrella term that refers to cancer that forms in any part of the throat.

The medical term for the throat is the pharynx. The pharynx has three parts:

  1. nasopharynx (upper throat, behind the nose)

  2. ​oropharynx (mid throat, including base of tongue and tonsils)

  3. hypopharynx (lower throat)

​The hypopharynx, the lowest part of the throat, leads into the oesophagus, which is sometimes also called the gullet and is located behind the larynx (voice box). 

'Throat cancer' is a colloquial umbrella term that is not usually used by medical practitioners. The more accurate way of referring to a cancer in the throat is by its specific cancer type.

2. What causes Throat Cancer?

Cancer occurs when cells become abnormal, grow uncontrollably and have the potential to spread to other parts of the body. These cells build up to form a mass (or lump). 

Doctors often can't explain why a person gets cancer. But we do know what makes some cancers more likely. 

The possible causes of throat cancer vary depending on the exact type of cancer it is.

Let's take a look at the precise types of Head and Neck Cancer in the throat. 

The following summaries are brief introductions to each cancer type. You are encouraged to read more detailed information at the links in each section.

3. Types of Throat Cancer

Nasopharyngeal Cancer

 

Nasopharyngeal Cancer is a type of throat cancer that forms in the nasopharynx, which is highest part of the throat —  in or behind the nose.

Here is a 3D video explainer about Nasopharyngeal Cancer:

The main causes of Nasopharyngeal Cancer are viruses, in particular the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), and smoking. Other factors that increase the risk of Nasopharyngeal Cancer are:

  • Age

  • Eating a lot of salt, cured fish and meat

  • Being male

  • Being from Southern China or South East Asia

> Read more: Causes of Nasopharyngeal Cancer
> Related link: Symptoms and tests for Nasopharyngeal Cancer
> Related link: Treatment for Nasopharyngeal Cancer

OROPHARYNGEAL Cancer (INCLUDING TONSIL CANCER)

Cancer that starts anywhere in the oropharynx is called Oropharyngeal Cancer. Your doctor may also call it by the part it has grown in, like tonsil or tongue base cancer. 

The oropharynx is the middle part of the throat, that is directly behind the mouth. It is made up of four parts: 

  • sides of the throat, including the tonsils

  • base of the tongue (back third of the tongue), sitting above the voice box

  • soft roof of the mouth (or the soft palate) and the fleshy part of skin hanging from the roof (or the uvula)

  • back wall of the throat (or the posterior pharyngeal wall)

Here is a 3D video explainer about Oropharyngeal Cancer:

The main causes of Oropharyngeal Cancer are

  • human papillomavirus

  • ​smoking

  • drinking alcohol

> Read more: Causes of Oropopharyngeal Cancer
> Related link: Symptoms and tests for Oropharyngeal Cancer
> Related link: Treatment for Oropharyngeal Cancer

Hypopharyngeal Cancer

​Hypopharyngeal Cancer refers to cancer that forms in the hypopharynx (lower part of the throat). The hypopharynx is a horseshoe shaped that sits behind and around the larynx (voice box). It's job is to direct food into the oesophagus (or food pipe).

Hypopharyngeal Cancer often occurs in pockets on either side of the hypopharynx (called the piriform sinuses).

Here is a 3D video explainer about Hypophanryngeal Cancer: 

The two main causes of Hypopharyngeal Cancer are smoking and drinking alcohol. Get information about quitting smoking and reducing how much alcohol you drink 

Other factors that may increase the risk of Hypopharyngeal Cancer are: 

  • Being male

  • Age

  • Exposure to certain substances

  • Poor diet 

> Read more: Causes of Hypopharyngeal Cancer 
> Related link: Symptoms and tests for Hypopharyngeal Cancer
> Related link: 
Treatment for Hypopharyngeal Cancer


LARYNGEAL Cancer

The larynx (or voice box) is an organ in the front of the neck. It is made up of cartilage (a firm tissue), muscles and ligaments which move to make different sounds and protect your lungs when swallowing. The cartilage in front of the larynx is sometimes called the Adam’s apple.

There are many types of tumours (lumps) that occur in the larynx. Many of these are not cancers but are what doctors call ‘growths’ or ‘lesions’. Common examples include vocal cord nodules or papillomas.

Here is a 3D video explainer about Laryngeal Cancer:

The two main causes of Laryngeal Cancer are smoking and drinking alcohol. Get information about quitting smoking and reducing how much alcohol you drink

Other factors that may increase the risk of laryngeal cancer are: 

  • Being male

  • Age

  • Family history

  • Low immunity

  • Exposure to asbestos

> Read more: Causes of Laryngeal Cancer
> Read more: ​Symptoms and tests for Laryngeal Cancer
> Related link: Treatment for Laryngeal Cancer


We encourage you to read the more detailed information on each cancer type at the links in each section. But if you would like to continue reading brief summaries of the different cancers that might be referred to as throat cancers, please see the links below.

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