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Clinical Specialties - Cancer

Throat Cancer

Head & Neck Cancers, Skin & Soft Tissue MDTThroat cancer generally refers to cancers that start in the pharynx or larynx (voice box), but can also refer to cancers that start in the oesophagus (food pipe) or thyroid. Some cancers which begin in the throat area, as well as the tongue, salivary glands, sinuses, nose or ears are classified as head and neck cancers.

The head and neck cancer experts at Sydney Adventist Hospital use several methods to confirm your diagnosis and determine the stage of your disease. They have experience with early-stage as well as complex cancer; have access to advanced diagnostic tools and a wide range of treatments, including clinical trials. At the same time, our supportive clinicians help you manage side effects to support your quality of life. Explore this section to learn more about throat cancer, its side effects and your treatment options.

About throat cancer

Throat cancer refers to cancerous tumours that develop in your throat (pharynx), voice box (larynx) or tonsils. The cancer often starts in the flat cells that line the inside of your throat.

Your voice box sits just below your throat and is also susceptible to throat cancer. It is made of cartilage and contains the vocal cords that vibrate to make sound when you talk.

Throat cancer can also affect the piece of cartilage (epiglottis) that acts as a lid for your windpipe.

According to the Cancer Council of Australia, about 4400 people (approximately 3170 men and 1230 women) are diagnosed with head and neck cancer each year, 890 with pharyngeal cancer and 590 with laryngeal cancer.

What are the symptoms of throat cancer?

Symptoms for throat cancers can include:

  • Throat pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Persistent sore throat or cough
  • Coughing up blood
  • Changes to the voice such as hoarseness
  • Difficulties swallowing
  • Feeling there is something stuck in the throat
  • Lumps in the neck or throat
  • Sudden unexplained weight loss.

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, talk to your General Practitioner (GP).

How is throat cancer diagnosed?

Tests to diagnose pharyngeal or laryngeal cancer may include:

  • Physical examination
  • Biopsy
  • Endoscopy of the larynx
  • Ultrasound
  • X-rays
  • Blood tests
  • Scans such as CT, MRI or PET.

Once a diagnosis has been made, your integrated team of head and neck experts will use these test results to determine the stage or extent of the cancer which will largely influence the recommended treatment approach.

What are my treatment options for throat cancer?

There are a number of ways to treat throat cancer, including:

  • Surgery to remove the cancer
  • Radiation therapy, using high-energy rays such as x-rays to destroy cancer cells
  • Chemotherapy with drugs that kill cancer cells

The treatment approach that is right for you depends on the stage of the cancer and where the cancer originated.

  • The main treatment for laryngeal cancer and hypopharyngeal cancer is usually surgery. Sometimes radiation or chemotherapy is given after surgery to reduce the chances that the cancer will come back.
  • Surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy are all common approaches for oropharyngeal cancer.
Resources and useful throat cancer links
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Sydney Adventist Hospital Clinical Specialties and Services