Pharynx generally known as the throat, that helps in passage of fluid, food, and air into the food pipe or windpipe respectively. Problems with the throat is only realised when it hurts while swallowing food. There are many other complications that can plague our throat, one of them being Oropharyngeal cancer.
Oropharyngeal cancer is a form of head and neck cancer in which cancer cells are discovered in the oropharynx, a part of your throat. There are different types of oropharyngeal cancer. The majority is squamous cell carcinoma, which can be classified into two kinds based on HPV testing. Oropharyngeal cancer associated with human papilloma virus is the most common form and accounts for more than 70% of all oropharyngeal cancer in USA and Western countries. In India, majority of oropharyngeal cancer is due to tobacco use or alcohol use and around 20% cases are due to HPV.
Oropharyngeal malignancies are frequently asymptomatic in early stages and causes difficulty or pain in swallowing in advanced stages. The first sign may be usually a lump in the neck. Other signs and symptoms may include:
Factors that increase your chances of developing oropharyngeal cancers include:
Can oropharyngeal cancers be found early?
For oral cavity and oropharyngeal cancers, there is no routine screening test or program. Nonetheless, many pre-cancers and cancers in these areas can be detected early during routine oral check-ups performed by a dentist, doctor, dental hygienist, or self-exam.
Treatment for oropharyngeal cancer is determined on the basis of various factors, including, but not limited to: the kind of cancer, tumor size and location, lymph nodes, speech and swallow function, and the patient's overall medical state. The treatment options include:
For early-stage oropharyngeal cancer, the major treatment options are transoral robotic surgery (TORS) to remove the main tumor as well as the lymph nodes in the neck.
radiation therapy aimed at cancer and the lymph nodes in the neck, or
Chemoradiation is frequently performed after surgery if any cancer persists or if there is a high risk of the cancer returning. If imaging or a biopsy reveals that the lymph nodes in the neck have malignancy, chemoradiation may be used as the first treatment.
Oropharyngeal cancer that may have spread to other parts of the body, for example, the lungs ,is treated with chemotherapy. Immunotherapy, either alone or in combination with chemotherapy, could be another possibility. Treatments such as radiation may also be used to ease cancer symptoms or avoid future complications.
Quitting tobacco and consumption of alcohol is the best way to limit the risk of getting these cancers. If you need help to reduce your risk of this cancer by quitting alcohol and tobacco, you can consult a healthcare professional.
The article is authored by Dr. Rajeev Sharan, Senior Consultant Head and Neck Oncologist, HCG EKO Cancer Centre, Kolkata