October 03, 2022

Six Questions About Throat Cancer

Every year there are more than 12,000 new cases of throat cancer in the U.S., with nearly 79% of those cases involving men. Do you have questions about throat cancer and if you may be at risk for the disease? Mina Le, M.D., otolaryngologist – head and neck surgeon at Hackensack Meridian Mountainside Medical Group, answers these questions for you.

What are the signs and symptoms of throat cancer?

“Symptoms of throat cancer include prolonged hoarseness, prolonged throat pain, difficulty swallowing and a lump in the neck,” said Dr. Le. “Signs of throat cancer include a mass in the tonsil or in the base of the tongue, a growth on the larynx and enlarged lymph nodes in the neck.”

Is throat cancer hereditary?

“In most cases, throat cancer is not hereditary. The most common causes are cigarette smoking, excessive alcohol consumption and HPV (human papillomavirus),” stated Dr. Le.

Can throat cancer be prevented?

There is no proven way to prevent throat cancer, but you can reduce your risk for the disease by:

  • Not smoking. If you smoke, quit. If you don't smoke, don't start.
  • Limiting alcohol. If you choose to drink alcohol, do so in moderation. For healthy adults, that means up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men.
  • Eating a healthy diet. The vitamins and antioxidants in fruits and vegetables may reduce your risk of throat cancer. Eat a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables.
  • Protecting yourself from HPV. Some throat cancers are thought to be caused by the sexually transmitted infection of the human papillomavirus (HPV). In addition to safe contraception, ask your doctor about the HPV vaccine, which may reduce the risk of throat cancer and other HPV-related cancers.

Can throat cancer be cured?

“Throat cancer has a very good cure rate when it is caught early,” shared Dr. Le. “Cancer of the vocal cords, for example, tends to be caught when it is Stage I or Stage II because it causes obvious hoarseness. In contrast, cancer of the tonsils or tongue base tends to remain hidden until it has spread to the lymph nodes in the neck. The good news is that when tonsil or tongue base cancer is associated with HPV, rather than with smoking or drinking, the prognosis is much more positive even after it has spread.”

What is the recommended treatment for throat cancer?

“Early-stage throat cancer tends to respond well to a single type of cancer treatment, either surgery or radiation. Late-stage throat cancer requires more than one modality of cancer treatment – possibly surgery followed by radiation, or possibly chemo and radiation at the same time,” said Dr. Le.

When do I need to see an Otolaryngologist about swollen lymph nodes?

“Enlarged lymph nodes are more commonly a result of local infection and more rarely a sign of cancer,” stated Dr. Le. “A good rule of thumb is that if a neck node is at least an inch across and has remained enlarged through an initial round of antibiotics, then it is time to see an otolaryngologist.”

If you would like to see an otolaryngologist, you can make an appointment on our website or by calling 973-798-4777.