Throat Cancer – Causes and effect

by Kofi Ayim

Normal body cells grow in a very organized way. They grow at a specific rate, and when they complete the function that they are supposed to perform, they stop growing. Eventually they die and are replaced by new cells. Cancer is caused when this orderly growth of cells is disturbed. There are therefore many different kinds of cancer, depending on the part of the body where the abnormal cells are coming from. When the abnormal growth begins in the passages behind the nose, mouth or in the larynx (Adams apple) it is termed throat cancer.

Tobacco is by far the commonest cause of throat cancer. Tobacco use is also a cause of lip cancer, mouth cancer, and lung cancer. Lip cancer is more common in those who smoke pipes, mouth and tongue cancer in those who chew tobacco, and cancer of the throat, larynx, lungs, food pipe (esophagus), stomach, pancreas, and bladder are all associated with cigarette smoking. Studies show that tobacco and cigarette smoke contain chemicals that change the manner in which cells grow, therefore causing cancer. Other factors such as diet and inheritance contribute very little to the risk of these types of cancer. There are basically two types of throat cancer: Squamous and Adenocarcinomas with the former more predominant in black men and in developing nations. Squamous cell carcinomas is a malignant growth that begin in the flat Squamous cells as thin, flat cells that looks like fish scales.

Early signs of throat cancer include, but not limited to sore throat that never goes away; hoarseness or change of voice; a lump or swelling in the neck; a red or white patch in the mouth that doesn’t go away; chronic sinus infections that do not respond to treatment; dentures that no longer fit; loosening of teeth; discoloration in a mole (a skin sore that crusts or ulcerates); persistent pain in the neck, throat or ears; difficulty chewing or swallowing; swelling of the jaw; numbness inside the mouth and nose; trouble breathing, speaking or hearing; and swelling or trouble with the eyes. It must be noted, however, that these symptoms may not necessarily be signs of cancer, but medical attention must be sought to confirm its presence or otherwise.

When these symptoms last longer than a few weeks they could be a sign of cancer. Late signs may be problems like weight loss. Bleeding from the mouth or nose can be a sign of throat cancer. Bleeding can also be a complication of the treatments that are given for throat cancer. Doctors and dentists can detect cancer in this area by close inspection, often using special mirrors, lights and instruments. It is possible that some forms of cancer are not recognized in countries where these facilities are not readily available. Indigenous forms of medicine may not always recognize the symptoms. For example, a sore or ulcer that does not heal for a long time (what the Akan of Ghana call “kooko”) may sometimes represent early cancer. It is possible that some cases previously thought to be “nantwie pompo”, which involved swellings in the throat, may actually have been throat cancer.

There are basically three ways of treating cancer: surgery, radiation, or chemotherapy. Surgery involves doing an operation to remove the cancer. Surgery is therefore most useful when the cancer is still small and has not spread. Radiation is a treatment in which very strong X-rays are pointed at the cancer in order to destroy the cancer cells. Radiation is also most useful when the cancer remains in a small area (stage 1). Once cancer cells spread through the blood stream, however they travel to many different parts of the body, and they can grow in those parts. The cancer is then said to be metastatic, or in stage 4. Most of the time, once a cancer has spread it cannot be cured. However chemotherapy can be used to slow down the growth of the cancer so the patient can live longer and avoid the effects of the cancer. Sometimes chemotherapy is given not because the cancer has already spread, but to prevent it from spreading. Common side effects of chemotherapy are nausea, vomiting, and hair loss. Even though multimodal treatment (utilizing more than one approach of treatment) is gaining popularity, some factors that are considered in treatment include, exact location of the tumor, stage of cancer and the overall health of the patient.

The most important thing anybody can do to prevent and/or minimize throat cancer is to avoid tobacco in all forms. The risk of many types of cancer is directly proportional to the amount of smoking, and the length of time that someone smokes. It is also important to get regular checkups by a dental hygienist, dentist or doctor. Any abnormal signs should be reported to the doctor.

Credit: Clarence Sarkodee Adoo, MD FACP, Hematologist and oncologist: Arizona

Pius Owusu Afriyie, PA-C, John Hopkins Hospital Dept of Medicine Hematology, Maryland

Website referrals: Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, New York.


Posted by on Aug 12 2012. Filed under Community News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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