Throat Cancer - Medical Malpractice Lawyers

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Throat Cancer - Medical Malpractice

Throat cancer is cancer that occurs in the pharynx, voice box (larynx) or within the tonsils. The throat begins at the level of the tonsils and ends at the voice box and is about five inches long. You can get throat cancer anywhere along that area. It can lead to a hoarse voice and difficulty swallowing.

Signs and symptoms of throat cancer include an abnormal cough unexplained by other reasons, voice changes, including hoarseness, ear pain, problems swallowing, a lump in the throat that doesn't heal at all, unexplained weight loss, and a pain in the throat.

Throat cancer happens when cells in the throat undergo a change in their DNA such that they are unable to stop growing. The cells accumulate and form a tumor or cancer in the throat. There are several types of throat cancer. These include nasopharyngeal cancer that occurs in the part of the pharynx right behind your nose. There is oropharyngeal cancer, which occurs in the part of the throat behind your mouth. There is hypopharyngeal cancer that occurs in the lower part of the pharynx near the vocal cords. Glottic cancer occurs at the level of the vocal cords. Supraglottic cancer occurs at the upper part of the vocal cords and subglottic cancer occurs below the vocal cords.

Your risk of throat cancer increases with tobacco use of any kind, including chewing tobacco and smoking pipes, cigarettes or cigars, poor dental hygiene, excessive alcohol use, having human papillomavirus or HPV, having a diet poor in vegetables and fruit, and having exposure to asbestos.

The diagnosis of throat cancer is made by using an endoscope to look with a camera down the throat to see what the lesion looks like, if any. Biopsies of the throat can be made at that time and can be looked at under the microscope. X-ray testing, including plain x-rays, CT scans or MRI scans of the throat can be done to see the extent of the cancer behind its outer layer.

Throat cancer is staged at stages I through IV. Stage I cancer is cancer located to the throat mucosa and other stages are worse. Stage IV cancer of the throat involves cancer that has spread to other parts of the body. The treatment of throat cancer depends on what stage the cancer is.

Radiation therapy involves the use of x-ray energy to deliver a high dose of x-rays to the cancer cells. Throat cancer is particularly sensitive to radiation therapy and its use can shrink the cancer to a more normal size. Radiation therapy may be the only treatment necessary for low grade, low stage throat cancer and surgery may not b necessary. You can also combine radiation therapy with other forms of therapy to treat the throat cancer in higher stage conditions.

Surgery depends on the stage of the cancer as well. Early stage cancer may need endoscopic surgery that uses laser or other procedures to get rid of the superficial cancer. In later stages, the entire voice box may need to be removed in an advanced surgical procedure. Sometimes just a part of the voice box may need to be removed and you will still be able to speak somewhat. In bigger tumors, the entire voice box is removed and the person has the trachea attached to a stoma on the front of the neck in order for you to breathe. This is called a tracheostomy. You will need to learn how to speak in different ways if this is the way your throat cancer is treated.

There is also surgery that removes all or part of the pharynx. This is called a pharyngectomy. You may need to learn how to swallow properly after this type of surgery is performed. Your voice box is removed in a pharyngectomy so you will need to learn how to talk properly. Your throat may need to be reconstructed out of normal tissue. Lymph nodes are removed during a neck dissection along either side of the neck. These may be removed as part of treatment or as part of the staging process.

Chemotherapy is available for throat cancer. It is used in conjunction with radiation therapy. Some types of chemotherapy make the cancer easier to kill with radiation. The side effects of chemotherapy include hair loss, weight loss, nausea, vomiting and malaise.

Targeted drug therapy changes the ability of the cancer cells to grow. One specific targeted drug therapy used for throat cancer is Erbitux or cetuximab. It stops the growing action of cancer cells. Targeted drug therapy can be used along with radiation and chemotherapy.

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The author of the substantive medical writing on this website is Dr. Christine Traxler MD whose biography can be read here