The pharynx is a muscular and membranous tube extending lengthwise from the mouth to the esophagus. It is located betweenthe nasal cavity and the larynx, in rear of the oral cavity. Through this channel, the nasal cavity and larynx communicate. The pharynxis therefore the intersection between the deglutition(swallowing) and breathing tubes. The nasopharynx is the portion of the pharynxthat is located behind the nasal cavities.
Pharyngeal cancer is a malignant tumor of the pharynx, occurring when a group of cells start reproducing anarchically without passing through the natural programmed cell death, apoptosis. The tumor usually develops within the pharynx wall by proliferation of cancer cells.
Pharyngeal cancer is rare in the world, and it occurs mainly in men, between 45 and 65 years.
Pharyngeal Cancer Causes and Risk Factors
Pharyngeal cancer causes are not clearly known to scientists; some factors are suspected however.The main risk factors of the disease are tobacco and alcohol that mutually reinforce their harmful effects. Professional risk is also present in business exposure to the inhalation of carcinogenic dust(wood dust, asbestos, etc.) or toxic substances (nickel compounds, sulfuric acid vapors, hydrocarbons, paints, and others).
Normally, the pharynx is in contact with the air and the food we eat; it is subject to many attacks, primarily tobacco, the leading cause of cancer death in the world; and alcohol. Association of alcohol and tobacco is responsible for about 9 out of 10 airway cancers: nasal cancer, pharyngeal cancer, throat cancer, lung cancer… Hot, cold and all pollutants from the atmosphere can increase the risk to develop Pharyngeal cancer in fragile individuals, people with weak immune system for instance.
These repeated attacks end up damaging the cells of the pharynx wall, which, at a certain age or due certain carcinogenic attacks, eventually turn into malignant cells, hence the formation and proliferation of cancer cells.
Pharyngeal Cancer Symptoms
Pharyngeal cancer symptoms tend to manifest late, discreet and confused with minor infection or irritation of the throat, which is typical among smokers. These symptoms or warning signs are therefore often overlooked. But without proper treatment, these symptoms may progress to:
- gradual loss of smell
decrease in hearing
- pain in the ear
- discomfort or pain in one side of the throat
- difficulty swallowing, sometimes accompanied by pain that radiates to the ear
- bleeding from the nose or throat
- appearance of painless ganglion at the corner of the jaw or neck
- recent and unexplained weight loss, which tends to be associated with loss of appetite in most patients.
Pharyngeal Cancer Diagnosis
After careful examination of the mouth cavity, as well as the ears, neck, and nodes, the health care provider will conduct more specific tests: either remotely, using a dental mirror and pulling thetongue to release the larynx; or directly, introducing a laryngoscope through the throat; or using a fiberscope through the mouth or nose after local anesthesia of the back of the throat.
Pharyngeal Cancer diagnosis also includes endoscopy to allow the physician to view all of the upper respiratory and digestive tracts. If cancerous growth is suspected, a biopsy is performed to take samples for microscopic examination. A CT scan of the throat and chest X-ray confirm the diagnosis and rule out or not presence of metastasis.
Pharyngeal Cancer Treatment
Once the diagnosis is confirmed to be positive, the oncologist will do a staging of the tumor and assess the health status of the patient to determine an appropriate treatment.
In most cases, pharyngeal cancer treatment involves surgery and radiotherapy if the cancer islocalized. The radiation therapy is important in order to kill all remaining cancer cells.
Sometimes the pharyngeal cancer treatment starts with chemotherapy to reduce the tumor size. If this results in an apparent destruction or almost complete elimination of the cancer, treatment is then completed with radiotherapy without surgery. But if there is local and regional expansion, chemotherapy is almost generally recommended in the pharyngeal cancer treatment.