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Throat cancer develops when cells in the throat undergo changes that cause them to grow uncontrollably and form tumors. The reasons for these cellular changes are not yet fully understood. In many cases, throat cancer initially affects the vocal cords. From there, it can potentially spread to the voice box (larynx), back of the throat (pharynx) or windpipe (subglottis and trachea).

As with all types of cancer, an early and accurate throat cancer diagnosis can increase the likelihood of achieving the best possible outcome and quality of life. But, it can sometimes be difficult to know whether you have it. Therefore, if you notice any changes in your health, you should consult with an experienced physician right away.

How to recognize the early signs of throat cancer

Throat cancer symptoms can occur in your mouth, nose, sinuses or throat, and can affect your ability to swallow, speak or breathe. Some early signs to watch for include:

  • A persistent cough
  • Hoarseness or other vocal changes
  • Difficulty speaking
  • A raw or itchy throat
  • A constant need to clear your throat
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Swollen lymph nodes or a lump in your neck
  • An earache or ringing in your ears
  • Frequent nosebleeds
  • Unexplained weight loss

In addition to throat cancer, many of these symptoms can have other, less serious causes, such as laryngitis. Therefore, you should see a physician for a proper diagnosis and, if necessary, appropriate treatment. While prompt medical attention is important for everyone, it is especially so for those who have a history of smoking or excessive alcohol consumption, and those who have been diagnosed with human papillomavirus (HPV). These are three of the biggest risk factors for throat cancer.

The multispecialty team in the Head and Neck Cancer Program at Moffitt Cancer Center can help you learn more about the risk factors, symptoms and treatment options for throat cancer. To request an appointment, call 1-888-663-3488 or complete our new patient registration form online. We do not require referrals.