How to Check for Throat Cancer at Home
Throat cancer is cancer that develops in the pharynx (throat), which is known as pharyngeal cancer. It can also develop in the larynx (voice box), which is known as laryngeal cancer. In this article, we will cover how to check for throat cancer at home, so you can be in the know.
There are various terms used to differentiate where in the throat the cancer started, including:
- Nasopharyngeal cancer: cancer that begins in the nasopharynx
- Oropharyngeal cancer: cancer that begins in the oropharynx
- Laryngopharyngeal cancer: cancer that begins in the laryngopharynx
- Glottic cancer: cancer that begins in the vocal cords
- Supraglottic cancer: cancer that begins in the upper portion of the voice box, including cancer that involves the epiglottis
- Subglottic cancer: cancer that begins below the vocal cords, in the lower part of the voice box
Risk Factors for Throat Cancer
Most throat cancers develop in individuals over the age of 50, and men are more commonly affected. Individuals who smoke or use tobacco, as well as those who are heavy drinkers are at an increased risk of developing throat cancer. Additionally, human papillomavirus (HPV) infection, most commonly HPC-16, has been associated with almost all types of throat cancers.
Symptoms of Throat Cancer
There are various signs and symptoms of throat cancer, many of which can be difficult to identify in the beginning stages of the disease because they also accompany other conditions, such as the common cold. Signs and symptoms of throat cancer include:
- Persistent cough
- Coughing up blood
- Sore throat (especially one that persists for more than two to three weeks, even after taking antibiotics)
- Voice changes, including hoarseness (especially ones that persist for more than three to four weeks)
- Swallowing difficulty
- Ear or jaw pain
- Abnormal, high-pitched, breathing sounds
- A lump in the throat, mouth, or neck
- Sores or white patches in the mouth or throat
- Breathing difficulty
- Unexplained weight loss
- Swelling of the eyes, jaw, neck, or throat
- Bleeding in the nose or mouth
Self-Exam for Throat Cancer
Early detection of any issues in the head and neck can help you get an early diagnosis, which improves treatment outcomes. Performing a head and neck self-exam at home can help you get to know your body and determine what is normal for you. Repeating the head and neck exam every month will help you to identify any changes that need to be evaluated by a doctor. The head and neck exam involves four steps.
When performing the self-exam, look for areas that appear discolored, abnormal, or irregular. It’s also important to look at both sides of the head and neck to see if they are symmetrical:
- Step 1: Check for lumps in the neck.
- Step 2: Look at your lips and cheeks.
- Step 3: Gently bite down and look at the gums.
- Step 4: Open your mouth and using a flashlight and mirror look at the tongue and under it, roof of the mouth, and back of the throat.
It’s also important to see your dentist regularly, as sores and spots in the mouth may be difficult to see during a self-exam. According to the American Cancer Society, oral cancer screenings are recommended every three years for individuals over the age of 20, and yearly for individuals over the age of 40.
When to See a Doctor
If you notice any signs or symptoms of throat cancer that persist, especially a change in your voice, such as hoarseness, a persistent sore throat, or a lump in neck, consult your doctor to determine the underlying cause of your symptoms.
Your doctor will perform a thorough physical examination, and may order additional tests if they suspect throat cancer, including:
- Biopsy of a suspected tumor
- CT scan and/or MRI of the head and neck
- X-ray and/or CT scan of the chest
- PET scan
Preventing Throat Cancer
While it is not possible to prevent every case of throat cancer, there are lifestyle changes that you can make to help reduce your risk of developing throat cancer, including:
- Quit smoking
- Avoid alcohol
- Avoid exposure to workplace chemicals.
- Consume a healthy, balanced diet, including a variety of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and limiting consumption of red and processed met, and sugary drinks and food
The outlook for individuals with throat cancer is improved if the cancer is caught early. Monitoring for abnormal signs and symptoms and performing monthly head and neck exams can help identify any early signs and symptoms of throat cancer to help you get an early and accurate diagnosis, which can help to improve your chances of recovery.