Mouth and throat cancers have long been linked to smoking, and there is a high prevalence of these cancers amongst smokers. However, there are increasing numbers of people with throat cancer from other causes, such as high alcohol consumption or people who test positive to a particular strand of the human papillomavirus. Goodness Me finds out more about mouth and throat cancers and what to look for.
Cancer of the tongue and tonsils is sometimes referred to as oropharyngeal cancer, named as such as the pharynx is the throat and oro refers to the mouth. Men have a higher risk than women of being diagnosed with this form of cancer.
Smoking has long been the leading cause of oropharyngeal cancer, however, the incidence is on the rise in non-smokers, leading to an investigation into other leading causes. The most likely candidate? Human papillomavirus, or HPV as it is known.
HPV is a sexually transmitted disease and is said to occur in almost 80 per cent of the population at one time or another. While most strains of HPV are not a risk factor for throat cancer, a particular one – HPV 16 – shows a link to oropharyngeal cancer.
Since most people are diagnosed between the ages of 40 and 60, it suggests it is not a rapidly moving type of cancer. It is still early days to determine whether the HPV vaccination will show a decrease in incidence of HPV-induced throat cancer in Australia with the advent of the immunisation program of all high school students. Research is underway to look for a decrease in incidence in this cohort, but will take some years to show a trend.
In the meantime, the first signs of throat cancer are a lump or lumps in the neck, as well as a persistent sore throat (more than three weeks) and difficulty swallowing. Anyone experiencing these symptoms should see a General Practitioner to be referred to an Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) surgeon.
Treatment for throat cancer has traditionally included a combination of radiation therapy and chemotherapy. More recently, however, robotic surgery is being used as an alternative to or in conjunction with radiation therapy. Epworth ENT surgeon Dr Matthew Magarey specialises in the removal of tumours from the throat using trans-oral robotic surgery. Matthew believes it may be a preferable option to reduce the swallowing problems that are generally a side effect of radiation therapy.
The precision of the surgery using the robot makes it easier to get to difficult spots in the throat and generally leads to faster recovery times and shorter hospital stays.
Cancers of the mouth and throat can travel to other parts of the body, and it is particularly important to diagnose them as soon as possible.Other mouth and throat cancers include nasal cancer and sinus cancer, salivary gland cancer, oral cancer from chewing tobacco, betel nut or paan, skin cancer on the lips and head and neck, and laryngeal cancer – which starts in the voice box. Many of the symptoms for these cancers are similar to throat cancer, but also include swellings in the gums, changes to lip or skin appearance, jaw soreness and changes in speech.
Consult your GP if you have any concerns about your health, you may need a referral to an Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) specialist for further investigation.