Skip to nav Skip to content

Woman feeling her neck for throat cancer symptoms

Throat cancer is a general term for cancers that occur in the pharynx (the space behind the nose and mouth) or in the larynx (the voice box). While most throat cancers involve the same type of malignant cells, they are further categorized based on precisely where the cancer originated:

  • Nasopharyngeal cancer – Begins in the part of the throat just behind the nose
  • Oropharyngeal cancer – Begins in the back of the mouth near the tonsils
  • Hypopharyngeal/laryngopharyngeal cancer – Begins in the lower part of the throat, just above the trachea and esophagus
  • Glottic cancer – Begins in the vocal cords
  • Supraglottic cancer – Begins at the top part of the larynx and may affect the epiglottis
  • Subglottic cancer – Begins at the lower part of the larynx

Early warning signs and early symptoms of throat cancer

In the early stages, throat cancer can easily be mistaken for the common cold or a run-of-the-mill sore throat, since the earliest symptoms typically include:

  • A cough
  • A persistent sore throat
  • Hoarseness
  • Ear pain
  • Nasal congestion

Common throat cancer signs and symptoms

However, as throat cancer progresses, the symptoms may become more specific and pronounced. They can vary based on the exact type and location of the cancer, but commonly include:

  • Chronic coughing, possibly expelling bloody phlegm
  • Nosebleeds
  • Frequent headaches and facial pain
  • A lump in the back of your throat that doesn’t go away
  • Swallowing and/or breathing difficulties
  • Unintended weight loss
  • Changes in hearing
  • Swelling or lumps in the neck
  • Sores that don’t heal
  • Red or white patches within the mouth

What does throat cancer feel like?

At first, throat cancer might just feel like a cold or sore throat. However, it may also be accompanied by swelling in the neck (especially of the lymph nodes), painful sores that don’t heal, difficulty breathing and so forth. If you have cold-like symptoms that don’t go away (or they worsen) after a few weeks, seek medical attention for a throat cancer screening.

What does throat cancer look like?

Throat cancer often doesn’t cause visible symptoms, but you may notice swelling on one or both sides of your neck, or be able to see sores or red or white patches in your mouth or at the back of your throat.

Advanced throat cancer signs and symptoms

As throat cancer advances, it often becomes more difficult to breathe and swallow, as the tumor encroaches into the airway and/or esophagus. This can lead to weight loss as it becomes harder and more painful to eat. If the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes, patients may notice swollen nodes in the neck or throughout the body. Additionally, if the cancer spreads to other regions of the body, patients may experience correlated symptoms. For example, if the cancer spreads to the lungs, symptoms might include coughing or shortness of breath.

How Moffitt Cancer Center approaches throat cancer

The Head and Neck Oncology Program at Moffitt Cancer Center boasts a multispecialty team that includes surgeons, physicians, oncologists, radiologists and supportive care professionals who work closely together to create the best possible outcomes for our patients. We offer comprehensive services such as screenings, diagnostics and treatment, all in one convenient location. Our team also spearheads a clinical trials program which means that our patients can access innovative, cutting-edge treatments and therapies that aren’t available anywhere else. Moffitt is proud to be the only National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center that’s based in Florida.

Learn more about our throat cancer services or schedule an appointment by calling us at 1-888-663-3488 or by completing a new patient registration form online. We do not require referrals to set up an appointment with our team.


Laryngeal & Hypopharyngeal Cancer | Throat Cancer 

Throat Cancer Foundation: Types of Throat Cancer 

Healthline: What Is Throat Cancer?

American Cancer Society: Signs and Symptoms of Oral Cavity and Oropharyngeal Cancer

American Cancer Society: Signs and Symptoms of Laryngeal and Hypopharyngeal Cancers

National Cancer Institute: Laryngeal Cancer Treatment