Actually there is no such medical condition called 'throat cancer', although several types of cancer can arise in the throat and neck. The correct medical term for the throat is the 'pharynx', which can be defined as the passage that ensures that food and drink go to the stomach and that air goes to and from the lungs. The pharynx is made up of three parts: the oropharynx (the back of the mouth, including the soft palate and base of the tongue); nasopharynx (connecting the back of the nose to the back of the mouth); laryngopharynx (connecting the oropharynx and nasopharynx to the start of the gullet (oesophagus) and the windpipe (trachea) via the voice box (larynx)). The laryngopharynx is sometimes called the hypopharynx. 'Throat cancer' can be cancer of any of these, although the most common form of 'throat cancer' is nasopharyngeal cancer.
Just to make the term of 'throat cancer' even more useless and confusing, some people apply it to cancer of the thyroid gland (situated at the front of the base of the neck), cancer of the voice box (larynx), cancer of the gullet or cancer of the windpipe (trachea), which actually comes in the lung cancer group.
Most head and neck cancer cells are squamous, which means they do not travel far from their origin, although they often affect the lymph nodes. In fact, the first indication of head or throat cancer is often an enlarged neck lymph node, which is also sometimes referred to as throat cancer. Another sign could be appearance of white patches or spots in the mouth that will not respond to treatment. Known as leukoplakia, 33% of them become cancerous. It is estimated that 7,000 Americans die of a throat cancer every year, often because it was detected late. Ethnicity may also play a part, since African American men are 50% more at risk of throat cancer than Caucasian men. These cancers are relatively painless in early stages and can be confused with toothache, earache, sore throat or hoarseness. Once established however, they develop very quickly, although if detected at an early stage, they can almost always be successfully removed.
There is a wide variety of reasons why someone can be at a heightened risk for a throat cancer, including smoking; chewing tobacco and other things, such as betel nut, gutkha, marijuana or pan; heavy alcohol consumption; poor diet resulting in vitamin deficiencies (worse if this is caused by heavy alcohol intake); weakened immune system; asbestos exposure; prolonged exposure to wood dust or paint fumes; exposure to petroleum industry chemicals and being over the age of 55 years. The presence of acid reflux disease (gastroesphogeal reflux disease - GERD) or larynx reflux disease can also be a major factor. In the case of acid reflux disease, stomach acids flow up into the oesophagus and damage its lining, making it more prone to throat cancer. Because successful treatment depends on early detection, regular oral examination is suggested. Your dentist will have been trained to be on the look out for early signs, making a bi-annual visit to him even more rewarding.
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