Throat And Oropharyngeal Cancer

Throat and oropharyngeal cancer develop from abnormal cells that form tumors in the throat, the base of the tongue, the tonsils and the larynx (voice box).

Treating throat and oropharyngeal cancer can be very invasive, even disfiguring. But for early-stage cancer, head and neck surgeons at Swedish are now able to perform Trans Oral Robotic Surgery, a minimally invasive procedure.

Diagnosing Throat and Oropharyngeal Cancer
Treating Throat and Oropharyngeal Cancer

There are about 26,000 new cases a year. Historically, these cancers have been found in people over 50 who have been smokers and consumers of alcohol for many years.

This type of cancer is now on the rise among people in their 30s and 40s who have never smoked. Recent studies have shown that throat cancer is linked to HPV, the Human Papilloma Virus.

Diagnosing Throat and Oropharyngeal Cancer

Symptoms of throat cancer may include:

  • Difficulty chewing or swallowing
  • Trouble breathing or speaking
  • Frequent headaches
  • Pain in the head, throat, neck or ears
  • Hoarseness
  • A lump in the neck

Various diagnostic tests include:

  • Laryngoscopy: inserting a lighted tube through the mouth to examine the throat
  • Fine needle aspiration: removing a sample of neck tissue to test for cancer cells
  • MRI, PET or CT scans: using scanning techniques to visualize the inside of the throat
  • Biopsy: removing a sample of throat tissue to test for cancer cells

Treating Throat and Oropharyngeal Cancer

Treatment for throat and oropharyngeal cancer depends on the type of cancer, the size and location of the tumor and whether the cancer has spread.

Treatment may include some combination of:

  • Open surgery to remove the tumor and nearby tissue
  • Trans Oral Robotic Surgery to remove the tumor through the mouth with no incisions
  • Radiation therapy
  • Chemotherapy, typically when surgery is not planned

Surgery to remove tumors can be very successful in early stage throat cancer. For patients whose cancer has spread beyond its original site, radiation therapy may be needed as well.

The Swedish Cancer Institute offers a full spectrum of care and services, from promising new treatments in clinical trials to integrated services that include counseling and complementary therapies.