Cancer sometimes begins in one part of the body before spreading to other areas – a process known as metastasis.
Although in many cases, your symptoms will not be cancerous, it is important to recognise the warning signs as the earlier you intervene, the greater your chances of recovery.
One symptom that could be confused with a less serious condition is persistent earache.
According to the NHS, if you experience persistent earache it could signal throat cancer.
Throat cancer, also known as laryngeal cancer, is a type of cancer that affects the larynx – a part of the throat found at the entrance of the windpipe.
The larynx plays an important role in helping you breathe and speak so cancerous cells developing in this area can impair these vital faculties.
In the UK, there are more than 2,000 new cases of throat cancer each year and the condition is more common in people over the age of 60.
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In addition to an earache, other symptoms of throat cancer include:
- A change in your voice, such as sounding hoarse
- Pain when swallowing or difficulty swallowing
- A lump or swelling in your neck
- A long-lasting cough
- A persistent sore throat
- In severe cases, difficulty breathing
“Some people may also experience bad breath, breathlessness, a high-pitched wheezing noise when breathing, unexplained weight loss, or fatigue (extreme tiredness),” explained the NHS.
According to Cancer Research UK, the earlier the cancer is picked up, the easier it is to treat it and the more likely the treatment is to be successful so it is that you go to your GP as soon as possible if you recognise the warning signs.
You should visit your GP if you have had any of the main symptoms for more than three weeks.
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As the NHS points out, these symptoms are often caused by less serious conditions, such as laryngitis, but it’s a good idea to get them checked out.
If necessary, your GP can refer you to a hospital specialist for further tests to confirm or rule out cancer.
Who is at risk?
While throat cancer is relatively rare in the Uk, there are some lifestyle factors known to increase your risk of developing the disease.
According to Cancer Research UK, smoking is a major risk factor for throat cancer: “When you smoke, it passes through the larynx on its way to your lungs. This smoke contains harmful chemicals.”
In addition, drinking alcohol can also increase your risk so it is important to not exceed the UK guidelines of no more than 14 units of alcohol a week for both men and women.
Another lifestyle factor that may heighten your risk is regular exposure to harmful substances including:
- Wood dust
- Soot or coal dust
- Paint fumes
- Coal as a fuel source
As Cancer Research UK explains, the chemicals in these substances can irritate the lining of your larynx and if these irritants are around you, you’re likely to breathe in and swallow small amounts.
You also have a higher risk or laryngeal cancer if you are exposed to these chemicals:
- Isopropyl alcohol
- Sulphuric acid mist
- Diesel fumes
There are also some unchangeable factors that may influence your risk, including:
- Family History
- Low immunity
How to treat throat cancer
Fortunately, most laryngeal cancers are diagnosed at an early stage, which means the outlook is generally better than some other types of cancer, notes the NHS.
The main treatments for laryngeal cancer are radiotherapy, surgery and chemotherapy.
Radiotherapy or surgery to remove the cancerous cells from the larynx can often cure laryngeal cancer if it’s diagnosed early but if the cancer is advanced, a combination of surgery to remove part or all of the larynx, radiotherapy and chemotherapy can be used, explains the NHS.