Pharyngeal Cancer

Overview

Pharyngeal cancer, also called throat cancer, is any cancer that affects the pharynx – the hollow tube between the nose and esophagus.

Symptoms

Throat cancer symptoms vary, but one of the first is a painless lump in the upper neck. Other symptoms include:

  • Changes in hearing
  • Chronic headaches
  • Chronic sore throat
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Hoarseness or other voice changes
  • Ringing in the ears (tinnitus)

Diagnosis

To diagnose pharyngeal cancer, your doctor will ask about your symptoms and examine your ears, nose, throat and mouth. He or she will use a small lighted mirror to look at your pharynx, and an endoscope (a thin, flexible tube with a light at the end) to examine the back of your nose. He or she may also order tests, including:

Barium swallow: A series of X-rays of the esophagus and stomach, also called an esophogram or upper GI series. It involves drinking a liquid that contains barium (a silver-white metallic compound) that coats the esophagus and stomach, which will show up on X-rays. 

Biopsy: A small piece of tissue is removed and examined in a lab.

Endoscopy: A thin, lighted tube is inserted through the mouth or nose so a doctor can see inside the body and look for abnormal tissue.

Fine needle aspiration biopsy: A thin needle is placed into a lump in the neck. Cells are aspirated (drawn out) and examined under a microscope to see if they’re cancerous.

Imaging tests: These include CT, MRI or PET scans, and chest or dental X-rays that can help confirm the presence of a tumor and if it’s spread to other areas.

Treatment Options

If you’re diagnosed with pharyngeal cancer, your team of Aurora neurosurgeons will work with you to determine the best treatment options. Treatments may include: 

  • Chemoradiation, which delivers chemotherapy and radiation therapy at the same time
  • Surgery, which is usually recommended only if chemoradiation isn’t effective

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