Throat Cancer

What is throat cancer?

Throat cancer usually begins in the cells that line the moist surfaces of the throat. The two main areas of the throat that are common locations of throat cancer include:

Pharynx– An approximately 5 inch long tube that begins behind the nose and leads to where the esophagus(tube to the stomach) and the trachea (tube to the lungs) both begin. The majority of deaths related to oral cancer (30.75%) were from cancer that began in the pharynx. The pharynx is broken down into three parts which include:

  • Oropharynx– This is the area right behind the mouth that begins where the oral cavity ends. It includes the back of the tongue, the soft part of the roof of the mouth, the tonsils and the side and back wall of the throat.
  • Nasopharynx– This is the upper part of the throat behind the nose toward the base of the skull.
  • Hypopharynx– This is the area in the neck that is beside and behind the larynx. It is found at the entrance to the esophagus and makes sure that food goes around the larynx.

Larynx– This is what is often considered the voice box. It is located in the neck at the opening of the windpipe, just below the pharynx.

Parts of the Larynx where throat cancer can occur

The website of the National Cancer Institute

Throat Cancer in the Oropharynx

Throat cancer found here is often considered an oral cancer because this area serves many of the same functions as the oral cavity including breathing, talking, eating, chewing and swallowing. The 5 year survival rate for Stage I cancer in the oropharynx is 56%, 58% for Stage II, 55% for Stage III, and 43% for stage IV. These numbers reflect the percentage of people still alive five years after their diagnosis of throat cancer in the oropharynx.

Throat Cancer in the Nasopharynx

The nasopharynx is a small box like structure that serves as a passageway for air from the nose to the throat. Most cases of nasopharyngeal cancer start in the flat cells that line its surface. This cancer is pretty rare and is more common in Asia (mainly Southeast China) and North Africa than in the United States. The risk for developing this type of cancer increases with age, but about half of the cases diagnose in the US were in people under 55. In North America about 7 out of every 1 million people will be diagnosed with throat cancer in the nasopharynx.

Throat Cancer in the Hypopharynx

Most cancers that develop here begin in the flat, thin cells that line the inner layer of the hypopharynx. Most of the time cancer cells from here began as pre-cancerous conditions. Most of the time the pre cancerous conditions will go away without treatment if the cause (like chewing or smoking) is stopped. If it does develop into cancer and is caught while in the early stages hypopharyngeal cancer easily treatable. But, if left untreated this type of throat cancer will spread to and destroy other tissues and parts of the body. 2,400 cases are diagnosed each year and about 1,700 of those are men and 700 are women and these rates are falling each year.

Throat Cancer in the Larynx

Throat cancer can be found in one or multiple areas of the larynx (sometimes called the voice box), which is an organ in your throat. These three different areas of the larynx include: the top, the middle (which is the part that includes the vocal cords), and the bottom (which is the part that connects to the windpipe). As these three areas open or close it allows a person to breath, talk or swallow.

How often is throat cancer in the larynx diagnosed?

It is estimated that 1 out of every 277 people will be diagnosed with throat cancer in the larynx during their lifetime. It is estimated that in 2012 13,000 people will be diagnosed (10,000 men and 3,000 women) and out of those about 28% (3,640) will die from the disease.

Want more information on throat cancer?

Visit our Throat Cancer Symptoms page for more information on signs and symptoms of throat cancer and how it is staged and our Causes of Throat Cancer page for a list of possible causes and risk factors.

Our Throat Cancer Treatment page offers more information on types of treatment available.

Want to see more images of throat cancer?

Visit our Throat Cancer Pictures page.

See our Throat Cancer Resources page for additional links.

Throat Cancer References

Head and Neck Cancers. National Cancer Institute. http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/Sites-Types/head-and-neck. Accessed January 9, 2012

Laryngeal and Hypopharyngeal Cancer. American Cancer Society. http://www.cancer.org/Cancer/LaryngealandHypopharyngealCancer/DetailedGuide/index. Accessed January 19, 2012.

Nasopharyngeal Cancer. American Cancer Society. http://www.cancer.org/Cancer/NasopharyngealCancer/DetailedGuide/index. Accessed January 19, 2012.

Oral Cavity and Oropharyngeal Cancer. American Cancer Society. http://www.cancer.org/Cancer/OralCavityandOropharyngealCancer/DetailedGuide/index. Accessed January 4, 2012.

What you need to know about Cancer of the Larynx. National Cancer Institute. http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/wyntk/larynx/. Accessed January 8, 2012.

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    All content on this site is for general information purposes only. It is not and should not be considered medical advice or used in place of the advice of a medical professional. Always seek the advice of a doctor or other professional for any medical condition.