8 Early Signs of Throat Cancer That You Mustn't Ignore

14 November, 2019
Throat cancer is the abnormal growth of cells in the pharynx, larynx, esophagus, or tonsils

Throat cancer is the growth of malignant tumors in the pharynx, larynx, or tonsils.

Although it can affect anybody, people with the highest risk of developing it are people who smoke or people who have suffered the Human Papillomavirus (HPV).

Knowing the risk factors and symptoms makes it easier to get professional help on time. After all, early detection is the best way to make treatment more successful.

It’s important to know the early signs of throat cancer so you can get help from your doctor and identify the problem as soon as possible.

1. Hoarseness or odd changes in your voice


Abnormal cell growth in the throat can start at the vocal cordsfor this reason, one of the first signs of throat cancer is a notable change in the tone of your voice.

  • Prolonged hoarseness for more than three weeks, or a sudden change in your voice, are sufficient reasons to visit a doctor.
  • Sometimes, it may be caused by infections or problems associated with smoking; however, it may also be due to throat cancer.
A woman touching her throat.

Read more: Reasons to Quit Smoking and Strategies for Success

2. Throat pain

It’s difficult to consider a simple throat pain as a symptom or a sign of cancer. Often, this irritation is caused by an infection of common respiratory illness.

However, when it’s persistent or appears intermittently, you should see a doctor to find out what’s causing it.

3. Bad breath

If you have bad breath that doesn’t go away with good oral hygiene habits, it could be a sign of something more serious. You shouldn’t immediately assume you have throat cancer, but you shouldn’t rule it out, either.

Patients that develop this disease tend to have a lot of difficulties controlling the smell of their breath. This persists even though they might use mouthwash or special oral hygiene products.

4. Difficulty breathing

Difficulty breathing, also known as dyspneais a symptom and early sign of throat cancer that might signal obstruction in the respiratory tracts.

It can be caused by a serious infection, but also could be a sign of tumors.

A woman with signs of throat cancer.

5. Swelling in the neck

The appearance of bulges in the neck can be caused by various things. In this case, in particular, it tends to occur because the tumor has managed to spread to the lymphatic glands located around the throat.

This sign should be considered a good reason to visit a doctor immediately since it might be a sign that the cancer is getting worse.

According to the experts at the American Cancer Association, other possible signs and symptoms of oropharyngeal and oral cavity cancer are:

  • A lump or thickening in the cheek.
  • A lump or mass in the neck.

6. The need to cough

Patients with respiratory problems or allergies tend to have recurring coughs due to the response of the immune system to the presence of a foreign agent.

When there’s a problem in the throat, this cough can become chronic.

At first, it may appear to be a dry cough, accompanied by irritation. Then, when the tumor advances, it can cause ulcers or bleeding.

7. Noisy breathing

When the tumor isn’t addressed early, the cancerous cells continue dividing and causing pain in the surrounding tissues.

As a consequence, they cause an obstruction in the respiratory tracts, causing noise every time the person inhales.

This noise is known as laryngeal stridor and it’s the result of a tightening of the opening between the vocal cords.

If it’s not treated early, cancer could block it completely and cause asphyxiation and death.

8. Difficulty swallowing

The majority of patients with early signs of throat cancer begin to suffer significant weight loss due to the difficulty of swallowing food.

The presence of tumors narrows the esophageal opening and causes food to get stuck. This, in turn, causes muscle weakness and increases the recurrence of acid reflux.


After identifying these symptoms, it’s crucial that you go immediately to a specialist.

After the doctor does a thorough evaluation of your symptoms, they may request an endoscopic exam or other tests to see if it’s throat cancer, or something else. They will also determine the best course of action for treatment.

Your physician might also recommend an endoscopy or scan to get an accurate diagnosis.

  • GBD 2015 Disease and Injury Incidence and Prevalence, Collaborators. (8 October 2016).
  • Rosenblatt KA (2004). “Marijuana use and risk of oral squamous cell carcinoma”. Cancer Res. 64 (11): 4049–54.
  • Schmitz, M. (2012). “Loss of gene function as a consequence of human papillomavirus DNA integration”. International Journal of Cancer. 131 (5): E593–E602