Approximately 12,400 Americans develop throat cancer each year. With early detection, the condition is curable and has a five-year survival rate of 80 to 95%. Because this percentage drops by almost half with late detection, it is important to identify symptoms and catch throat cancer as early as possible.
A sore throat that persists despite treatment could indicate a viral illness or allergy, but in rare cases, it could be an early symptom of throat cancer. When the symptom lasts longer than a few days or gets progressively worse, it is best to see a doctor to identify or rule out a serious condition. A persistent sore throat is one of the most common signs of throat cancer.
A hoarse voice is another sign of throat cancer that is very easy to assume is caused by a short-lived infection or smoking. People who smoke are at a higher risk of throat cancer. In many cases, a sore throat accompanies hoarseness caused by throat cancer. If the symptom persists for two weeks or more, it is best to see a doctor.
Lump on the Neck
A lump on the neck is one of the most visible signs of throat cancer. In many cases, this lump appears under the jaw, but it may develop anywhere on the neck. There may be more than one lump, as throat cancer may cause swelling in multiple lymph nodes on the neck. Some people may mistake swollen lymph nodes caused by a minor infection for lumps. If the growth does not go away after a few weeks or no viral symptoms develop, a doctor can investigate whether the lump is benign or malignant.
Certain viral infections can make swallowing difficult, but this feeling should go away once the infection is gone. If it does not, or if the other symptoms of an infection have passed and the person cannot swallow without pain or discomfort, a doctor can look for white patches or ulcers in the throat that grow into the underlying tissues, as that may indicate the presence of throat cancer.
An earache is typically not serious, but because this is another possible sign of throat cancer, a medical practitioner should investigate persistent pain or ringing in the ears. Throat cancer can lead to ear pain because a portion of the middle ear shares nerves with the throat.
Many issues, including poor posture or sleep, can lead to neck pain. Minor causes should not result in pain lasting more than a few days to a week. If neck pain does not resolve, and no musculoskeletal issues are at play, an individual should seek medical evaluation.
So many factors can cause coughing that it is not a good indicator of throat cancer. However, throat cancer can lead to a persistent cough. A doctor should check a cough that does not resolve in a few weeks, especially when other symptoms are also present.
Unexplained Weight Loss
Throat cancer is only one of many explanations for sudden significant weight loss. However, an inability or lack of desire to eat due to throat pain and the extra energy the body is using to fight off cancer can cause this symptom. Weight loss is more likely to develop in the later stages of throat cancer.
Difficulty breathing should always prompt a person to seek medical evaluation. Many health concerns can cause this symptom, from asthma to heart disease. Breathing issues generally develop in the later stages of the disease, so a person with throat cancer has likely experienced other symptoms as well.
In addition to general difficulty swallowing, throat cancer can cause the feeling of something constantly stuck in the throat, which may lead to swallowing or clearing the throat repeatedly. A tumor directly in the esophagus or breathing passage can lead to blockages that irritate the throat.