Throat Cancer

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newly diagnosed with throat or esophageal cancer?

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If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with throat or esophageal cancer, it's important to gather as much information as possible to navigate your cancer journey effectively. At American Cancer Fund, our goal is to provide you with essential knowledge about throat and esophageal cancer, symptoms, risk factors, and the latest research advancements to help you become an active participant in your care.

What You Need to Know

Throat cancer encompasses cancerous tumors in the throat (pharynx), voice box (larynx), or tonsils. The throat is a muscular tube extending from behind your nose to your neck, with the voice box located just below, housing the vocal cords.

Throat cancer can also affect the epiglottis, which acts as a lid for the windpipe, and the tonsils at the back of the throat.

Symptoms to Watch For

  • 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 Should I 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.

Risk Reduction

Reducing your risk involves not smoking, avoiding chewing tobacco, and limiting alcohol consumption.

A Closer Look at

Throat and Esophageal Cancer

What is Esophageal Cancer?

This type of cancer targets the esophagus — the muscular tube that ushers food and liquids from the throat down to the stomach.

It manifests primarily in two forms:

Squamous Cell Carcinoma

Squamous cell carcinoma originates in the flat, scale-like cells lining the esophagus, typically occurring in its upper and middle sections 


Adenocarcinoma, on the other hand, develops from glandular tissue in the lower part of the esophagus.

Both types share similarities in treatment approaches but stem from different risk factors and locations within the esophagus.

Risk Factors and Causes

For squamous cell carcinoma, tobacco and alcohol use are the most significant risk factors, contributing to over 90% of these cases. Adenocarcinoma's risk factors are more varied, with obesity and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) leading the charge. GERD involves the frequent backflow of stomach contents into the esophagus, causing irritation and, over time, potential transformation of esophageal cells.

A notable condition linked with an increased risk of esophageal cancer is Barrett’s esophagus. This precancerous state arises when the esophageal tissues at the lower end undergo changes due to persistent reflux, sometimes evolving to mimic the stomach’s lining. Not everyone with Barrett’s esophagus will develop cancer, but the risk is significantly heightened.

Innovations in Research

The Hutchinson Cancer Research Center has been at the forefront of esophageal cancer research, particularly through its Seattle Barrett’s Esophagus Research Program. This initiative brings together a multidisciplinary team, including clinical caregivers for patients with Barrett's esophagus, laboratory scientists investigating the genetic and cellular underpinnings of cancer development in Barrett's tissues, and epidemiologists delving into the genetic and environmental triggers for Barrett’s esophagus and its progression to cancer.

This collaborative effort aims not just to understand Barrett’s esophagus and esophageal cancer better but to translate these insights into improved patient care, prevention strategies, and ultimately, lives saved. 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.

Assessing and Mitigating Risk in Esophageal Cancer

In groundbreaking research led by Dr. Thomas Vaughan and his team, a significant discovery was made regarding the prevention of esophageal cancer, particularly for individuals with Barrett's esophagus. Through an extensive eight-year observational study, the first and longest of its kind, it was found that the use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), like aspirin and ibuprofen, could dramatically lower the risk of developing esophageal adenocarcinoma. Specifically, regular NSAID users were found to have a one-third lower risk compared to those who did not use these medications.

Further investigations by Drs. Patricia Galipeau, Xiaohong Li, and Brian Reid have deepened our understanding, especially for those with the most aggressive forms of Barrett's esophagus. Their research highlighted that preventive treatment with NSAIDs could be particularly beneficial, supported by the identification of four key cancer biomarkers that significantly elevate esophageal cancer risk. 

Intriguingly, individuals with three or more of these biomarkers who used NSAIDs had a 30% chance of developing esophageal cancer over ten years, as opposed to a 79% risk for non-users with the same genetic markers.

Additionally, Dr. Vaughan's team has illuminated the strong link between abdominal obesity and Barrett's esophagus, emphasizing the complex interplay between body weight and esophageal health. Given the limited knowledge on Barrett's esophagus origins, this research suggests that weight management could be a strategic preventive measure against both Barrett's esophagus and esophageal cancer.

These findings collectively underscore the importance of lifestyle modifications and the potential role of NSAIDs in reducing esophageal cancer risk among high-risk groups. They pave the way for more personalized prevention strategies, offering hope for those navigating the challenges of Barrett's esophagus and esophageal cancer.

Feel prepared for every appointment

Carrying the right information can empower you during your cancer care journey. 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.

#KnowCancer Tip

Update your information and checklist after each appointment to keep track of your progress and prepare for your next visit. Being organized is a key step in navigating your cancer care with confidence.

Essentials Checklist

  • Important Contacts: Include your healthcare team's phone numbers and email addresses.
  • Health and Treatment History: A brief summary of your diagnosis, treatment plans, and any past procedures or surgeries.
  • Copies of Reports: Bring recent blood tests, pathology reports, and any other relevant medical records.
  • Calendar: Your schedule of upcoming appointments, treatments, and tests.
  • Progress Notes: Observations about your symptoms, side effects, and any changes in your condition.
  • Questions: A list of questions or concerns you have for your healthcare provider. Don't hesitate to ask anything that's on your mind.
  • Insurance Information: Your insurance card and any necessary authorization forms or documents.

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