What Is Throat/Pharyngeal Cancer?

Illustration of the pharynx

The pharynx is a hollow tube about five inches long that starts behind the nose and leads to the esophagus (food pipe) and the larynx (voice box).

The pharynx has three parts:

  • Nasopharynx: The upper part of the pharynx is called the nasopharynx. It’s the area of your throat right behind your nose.
  • Oropharynx: The oropharynx is the middle part of the pharynx. It includes the soft palate, the soft area right behind the hard roof of your mouth; the back one-third of your tongue (base of the tongue); and your tonsils.
  • Hypopharynx: The hypopharynx is the lower part of the pharynx that funnels food to the esophagus (food pipe).

What causes throat cancer?

Infection with the sexually transmitted human papillomavirus (HPV) has been linked to 70% of cancers of the mouth and throat (oropharyngeal cancers). Smoking and heavy drinking are also major risk factors for this disease.

Over the past several years, the human papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmitted disease, has been linked to a growing number of throat cancers. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that in the U.S., 70% of oropharyngeal cancers are caused by HPV. (It could be that these cancers are not caused by HPV alone but develop when someone who has HPV also uses tobacco and/or drinks alcohol.)

What are the symptoms of throat cancer?

  • A lump or mass in the neck
  • Difficulty swallowing, or pain when swallowing
  • Hoarseness or change in voice
  • Sore throat that doesn’t go away
  • Ear pain or ringing in the ears
  • Hearing loss in one ear
  • Bad breath that doesn’t go away
  • Breathing difficulty
  • Difficulty speaking
  • Blood-tinged saliva
  • Double vision
  • Frequent headaches

How is Throat Cancer Diagnosed?