Throat Cancer


Newly Diagnosed with Throat Cancer? Start your Cancer education here.

Vital to helping you understand your condition and manage your care is keeping track of important phone numbers, treatment history, side effects, and laboratory results, such as your complete blood count (CBC). Use these tools to help organize this information so you can be an active participant in your cancer care. Keep them handy for use at home and bring them along to your doctor visits and other medical appointments.

  1. Important Contacts
  2. Health and treatment history
  3. Copies of reports – Blood tests, Pathology reports, etc
  4. Calendar
  5. Progress
  6. Questions
  7. Insurance

What is Throat Cancer?

Throat cancer refers to cancerous tumors that develop in your throat (pharynx), voice box (larynx) or tonsils.

Your throat is a muscular tube that begins behind your nose and ends in your neck. Your voice box sits just below your throat and is also susceptible to throat cancer. The voice box 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. Tonsil cancer, another form of throat cancer, affects the tonsils, which are located on the back of the throat.

You can reduce your risk of throat cancer by not smoking, not chewing tobacco and limiting alcohol use.

Throat Cancer Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of throat cancer may include:

  • A cough
  • Changes in your voice, such as hoarseness
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Ear pain
  • A lump or sore that doesn’t heal
  • A sore throat
  • Weight loss

When to see a doctor: Make an appointment with your doctor if you notice any new signs and symptoms that are persistent. Most throat cancer symptoms aren’t specific to cancer, so your doctor will likely investigate other more common causes first. For more information on the cause of throat cancer, check out the Mayo Clinic.

What is Throat or Esophageal Cancer*

  • Esophageal cancer affects the esophagus–the hollow, muscular tube that carries food and liquids from the throat to the stomach. It is the most rapidly increasing type of cancer in the United States.
  • There are two main types of esophageal cancer: squamous cell carcinoma and adenocarcinoma. Squamous cell carcinomas arise in the flat, scale-like cells that line the esophagus and usually occur in the upper and middle part of the esophagus. Adenocarcinomas usually develop in glandular tissue in the lower part of the esophagus. Treatment is similar for both types.
  • By far, tobacco and alcohol use are the strongest risk factors for esophageal squamous cell carcinoma, accounting for more than 90 percent of such cases. The causes of esophageal adenocarcinoma are more diverse, but are led by overweight and gastroesophageal reflux, a problem in which stomach contents frequently back up into the esophagus.
  • People with a precancerous condition called Barrett’s esophagus face a far greater than average risk of developing esophageal cancer, although not all people with Barrett’s go on to develop cancer. Barrett’s esophagus occurs when tissues at the bottom of the esophagus become irritated as a result of reflux. Over time, cells in the irritated part of the esophagus may change and begin to resemble the cells that line the stomach.

Esophageal Cancer: Some Key Research From Hutchinson Cancer Research Center

Through the Seattle Barrett’s Esophagus Research Program, which is based at the Hutchinson Center, our researchers collaborate with colleagues at the University of Washington and other institutions on studies aimed at improving the lives of people living with the condition. The program includes an experienced clinical team that cares for patients with Barrett’s esophagus; a laboratory team that investigates the genetic and cell-cycle abnormalities that lead to cancer in Barrett’s esophagus; and epidemiologists who explore genetic and environmental risk factors that may cause Barrett’s esophagus and cancer.

Our investigators are also active members of the Barrett’s and Esophageal Adenocarcinoma Consortium (BEACON), an international group of investigators who pool data and resources to investigate possible causes of the conditions and ways to prevent it.

Among its accomplishments, the Hutchinson Center team of investigators has shown that a systematic, multidisciplinary approach to early cancer detection can boost the five-year survival rate for esophageal cancer from about 10 percent to more than 80 percent.

Other promising research findings from the Seattle team, all of which require additional research, suggest that reducing obesity and quitting smoking also may prevent progression of Barrett’s.

To read more about the Seattle Barrett’s Esophagus Research Program. »

Determining esophageal-cancer risk

  • In the first and longest observational study of its kind, Dr. Thomas Vaughan and colleagues found that aspirin and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, may significantly reduce the risk of esophageal cancer among people with Barrett’s esophagus. The eight-year study found that current users of NSAIDs faced one-third the risk of developing esophageal adenocarcinoma as compared to patients who never used the drugs. Learn more. »
  • People with the most aggressive form of Barrett’s esophagus may benefit the most from preventive therapy with aspirin, ibuprofen and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs, according to research led by Drs. Patricia Galipeau, Xiaohong Li, and Brian Reid. The researchers also identified a cluster of four known cancer biomarkers, or genetic abnormalities, in people with Barrett’s that significantly increases their risk of developing esophageal cancer. The researchers found that those with three or more of those cancer biomarkers upon enrollment in the study who also used aspirin or other NSAIDs had a 30 percent risk of esophageal cancer after 10 years. By contrast, those with the same biomarkers who did not use NSAIDs had a 79 percent risk of developing cancer within a decade of joining the study. Learn more. »
  • Abdominal obesity is a strong risk factor for Barrett’s esophagus, according to a study led by Dr. Thomas Vaughan and colleagues. Aside from chronic reflux, there is scant knowledge about the cause of Barrett’s, and Vaughan’s study was one of the first to look at the association between the condition and multiple measures of obesity. The observations suggest weight loss might be a fruitful approach to preventing Barrett’s esophagus and esophageal cancer. Learn more. »


*Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center –