Pharyngeal Cancer: Symptoms, Causes, Treatment

Overview

Pharyngeal cancer is a disease where the malignant cells develop on the pharynx, which is located behind the oral cavity, between the nasal cavity and larynx. The pharynx is a hollow tube in the neck and throat. It can be divided into three sections: nasopharynx, which is the top section, oropharynx, which is the middle section, and hypopharynx, which is the lowest section.

Pharyngeal cancer is less common than other head and neck cancers. It is often called throat cancer and occurs more commonly in men.

It is estimated that more than 13,000 cases of pharyngeal cancer are diagnosed in the United States every year, affecting about 3 in every 100,000 Americans.

Causes

The
exact cause of pharyngeal cancer is not yet known. It is believed that pharyngeal
cancer occurs more often in ages 50 to 60 but can occur at any age. It affects
more men than women. There are many other risk factors that may lead to pharyngeal
cancer, including:

  • Heavy drinking
  • Tobacco use
  • Epstein-Barr virus
  • Human papillomavirus
  • Asbestos exposure
  • Formaldehyde exposure
  • Cooking salt-cured fish and meat (which releases a chemical called nitrosamine)

Symptoms

The
first symptom of pharyngeal cancer is a painless lump in the upper neck. Other possible
symptoms include:

  • A lump in the neck
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Hoarseness or change in voice
  • Nosebleed
  • Nasal congestion
  • Sore throat
  • Ear pain
  • Facial pain
  • Persistent headaches
  • Persistent bad breath
  • Bad breath
  • Blood-tinged saliva
  • Double vision
  • Hearing loss

Diagnosis

To
diagnose pharyngeal cancer, the doctor will examine your mouth, throat, ears
and use a small lighted mirror to examine your pharynx. The doctor will pass a
thin flexible tube with a light at the end, which is called endoscope, into the
nostril to look at the back of the nose. If a tumor is suspected, the doctor
will order the following tests:

  • Biopsy
  • Fine-needle aspiration (FNA)
  • Blood tests
  • CT scan
  • MRI (magnetic resonance imaging)
  • PET scan. In this test, a small amount of radioactive glucose is injected into a vein. The scanner makes computerized pictures of the areas inside the body. The tumor will be highlighted on the pictures, because cancer cells absorb more radioactive glucose than normal cells.
  • Orthopantomography. It uses a panoramic X-ray to check the upper and lower jaw. It shows a view from ear to ear and helps determine if a tumor has grown into the jawbone.

Treatment

Treatment for pharyngeal cancer depends on the location in the pharynx, the size and extent of the tumor. The following is a brief overview of the treatment options:

  • Radiation Therapy

Radiation
therapy uses waves of high-energy rays produced by a machine to shrink or destroy
cancer cells. Radiation therapy is often the primary treatment for early-stage
oropharyngeal and nasopharyngeal tumors. It commonly involves 5-6 weeks of
daily treatments.

  • Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy
uses drugs to target rapidly growing cells to destroy cancer cells. It is often
combined with radiation therapy to treat locally advanced tumors in the
pharynx. Chemotherapy can be given before or after surgery or radiation
therapy, in order to shrink the tumor or kill remaining cancer cells.

  • Surgery

Surgery
is a common treatment for pharyngeal cancer. The doctor will remove the tumor
and surrounding tissue using only a thin flexible tool passed into the throat.
However, other cases may require a surgical incision in the neck, jawbone, or
facial bones. In more serious cases, the doctor may need to surgically remove
nearby affected structures, including the tongue, jawbone, roof of mouth, and
larynx. Moreover, the doctor may perform a neck dissection and remove the lymph
nodes and tissue in the neck. After these surgeries, patients may need a
tracheostomy or gastronomy tube to help them breathe and eat.

Before taking any treatment options, it is advisable to consult with your doctor for better advice.

Keywords: Pharyngeal cancer

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