signs of throat cancer

When you think of throat cancer, you most often picture a growth or neck mass. While this is a possible sign of throat cancer, did you realize that severe, chronic hoarseness can also be an indicator of the disease?

Every year, an estimated 30,000 Americans are diagnosed with some type of head, neck or throat cancer, according to information from the National Cancer Institute

The signs of throat cancer mimic symptoms of other common conditions, such as allergies, colds, and sinus infections. In order to achieve an accurate diagnosis, you need the expertise of one of our experienced ENT physicians who can determine whether or not you need a biopsy.

Throat cancer is most treatable when it’s discovered early.

What Causes Throat Cancer?

Habitual use of alcohol and tobacco—including chewing tobacco and snuff—are responsible for 75 percent of all head, neck, and throat cancers. Those who use both tobacco and alcohol are at higher risk than those who use only tobacco or alcohol, according to information from the National Cancer Institute.

What Are The Risk Factors For Throat Cancer?

While smoking may be the most obvious risk factor, there are others that should be considered. These include: 

  • Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol

  • Not eating enough fruits and vegetables

  • Having GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease)

  • Being exposed to HPV (the human papillomavirus)

Remember that vaping is not a safe alternative to smoking. E-cigarettes have substances like nicotine and diacetyl, which are linked to lung disease. Ideally, you should avoid both electronic and tobacco cigarettes. 

5 Signs of Throat Cancer

1. You have a neck mass.

Not all neck masses are cancer. They can also be caused by strep throat, tooth infections, and goiters. Our Raleigh ear, nose, and throat doctors will be able to pinpoint the exact cause and prescribe appropriate treatment.

2. Changes in your voice such as hoarseness or the inability to speak clearly .

There are several potential causes of hoarseness, and most of them are not cancerous. However, if you have had chronic problems with your voice, it’s important to schedule an appointment for a complete evaluation.

3. Difficulty swallowing.

You may have a feeling that food is stuck in your throat, even when it’s not. Dysphagia is the medical term for difficulty swallowing.

In general, this symptom gradually gets worse until it dramatically affects your diet, limiting your ability to eat solid foods.  You should always let us know if you’re having pain when you swallow.

4. A sore throat

There are several conditions that can cause a sore throat that are much more common than throat cancer.

However, if you’ve had a persistent sore throat that doesn’t go away despite treatment, you should schedule an appointment with us, particularly if it’s accompanied by the symptoms listed above.

5. Unexplained weight loss

If you are losing weight without any changes to diet or exercise--particularly if you lose ten pounds or more--it could be a sign of cancer. 

It’s important to note that many of these symptoms are caused by conditions that aren’t cancerous, such as the common cold or a sinus infection.

Because these signs can be caused by several different diseases, it’s always important to seek treatment with one of our Raleigh ENTs who can help determine the exact cause of your problems. 

Where Does Throat Cancer Develop?

According to the Mayo Clinic, throat cancer usually starts in the flat cells on the inside of your throat

In addition, tumors can be found on your tonsils, your larynx (voice box) and your epiglottis, which is the cartilage that closes your windpipe when you swallow. 

Who Should Have a Throat Cancer Screening?

Actually, according to the American Cancer Society, there are no simple screening tests for these cancers because they are hard to diagnose without complex procedures. For that reason, unless you are showing symptoms of the disease, routine throat cancer screening is not recommended. 

If we believe you need a throat cancer screening, we will use a special, thin, lighted endoscope with a tiny camera to examine the area. Your vocal cords may also be examined in a similar matter in a procedure called a laryngoscopy.

If there are suspicious areas such as a neck mass, we may remove a part of them for testing.

How is Throat Cancer Treated?

In its early stages, throat cancer can typically be treated with radiation therapy alone. However, more advanced cases require radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and even surgery. 

Raleigh Capitol Ear, Nose and Throat has a Team of Experienced, Board-certified Physicians Ready to Help You

We understand the value of compassionate, individualized care. Our practice has seven convenient locations to help you and your children receive the world-class care you deserve.

If you have any of the symptoms listed above, please schedule an appointment with us today so we can determine the underlying cause and provide a treatment plan.


Interested in more information? Check out some of our other articles:

What You Need to Know About Throat Cancer 

Oral Cancer: The Importance of Early Detection 

Do You Feel a Mass in Your Neck? Be Prepared to Answer These Questions at Your Doctor Appointment 

When is Throat Surgery Needed?

Raleigh Capitol Ear, Nose, and Throat is the area's premiere physician-owned ENT practice with seven convenient locations throughout Wake County. Our board-certified physicians have extensive experience in treating both common and complex cases to help adults and children alike. For more information or to schedule an appointment, contact us.



American Cancer Society. “Can Laryngeal and Hypopharyngeal Cancers Be Found Early?” Online. 

American Cancer Society. Signs and Symptoms of Esophageal Cancer

Mayo Clinic. “Throat Cancer.” Online.