The American Cancer Society estimates 2,940 men and 720 women, totaling 3,660, will die from laryngeal cancer in 2017.
Most common in males over the age of 50, throat cancer is capable of affecting thousands of individuals and families across the globe, according to Sharecare’s “How common is throat cancer?”
What is throat cancer?
Throat cancer is a type of head and neck cancer that is usually separated into two categories: pharyngeal cancer and laryngeal cancer (pharyngeal cancer being cancer of the throat, and laryngeal cancer being cancer of the voice box), according to Health Line’s article “Throat cancer.”
However, the general term throat cancer covers cancer that develops in other areas associated with or near the throat, Nicholas Wallace, assistant professor of biology, said.
“Cancers just about anywhere in your body share some common traits,” Wallace said. “They are uncontrolled growths of cells that end up starving your body for nutrients and physically blocking the function of organs. The throat is a pretty wide region, so throat cancer could affect anything from the throat to the back of the mouth, for example, the tonsils or tongue.”
Some common symptoms of throat cancer include difficulty swallowing, sore throat, changes in voice, unexplainable weight loss, bleeding in the mouth or through the nose and chronic coughing, according to Cancer Treatment Centers of America’s website.
Leading causes of throat cancer include tobacco use, alcohol abuse and a human papilloma virus, which can be a sexually transmitted disease, according to Health Line.
Wallace, whose lab work currently centers around repurposing existing drugs to target HPV-positive cancers, said HPV is the most prominent of the leading causes.
“When we’re talking HPV infections in the genital track, the frequency that an HPV infection that goes on to be a cancer is really low,” Wallace said. “The thing is that HPV is the most prevalent STD out there, so the sheer number of people infected with the virus causes a great many cancers and deaths.”
The Oral Cancer Foundation’s website says that each day about 12,000 people ages 15 to 24 in the United States are infected with HPV.
The rate of new cases of laryngeal cancer is falling 2 to 3 percent per year, due to a decrease in smoking, according to the American Cancer Society’s website.
While laryngeal cancer’s rate declines yearly as the number of people who smoke declines, the risk of HPV leading to cancer is growing, Wallace said.
“HPV used to hardly ever cause head and neck cancers, these throat cancers, but right now we’re looking at a really massive growth of those cancers,” Wallace said. “The number that we’re seeing is expected to continue to climb to the point where HPV is causing almost all of the head and neck cancer cases moving forward.”
The standard of care for cases of of throat cancer almost always involves surgery, after which would come a month and a half to two months of recovery and chemotherapy.
However, Wallace said the latest research on head and neck cancers is testing theories that HPV-caused cancer, which tends to be less aggressive than cancer not caused by HPV, can be treated with drugs that are less harmful to patients and have fewer side effects.