Throat cancer is often subject of complications; complications may be due to either the cancer itself or its treatment. Some throat cancer complications include:
Metastasis – the cancer can spread into nearby tissues of the throat such as mouth and cervical lymph nodes, or more distantly sites such as the lungs.
Airway obstruction – if you have throat cancer, the tumor can block your airways and make breathing difficult. Besides the cancer, the treatment itself can cause respiratory problems. If you had a total removal of the larynx, you will need a tracheostomy to maintain respiration.
Deformation of the throat and neck – if you have had surgery which involved removal of the tumor and surrounding tissue, this can lead to some distortion of the throat and neck. Not only the operation may make the movement of your neck difficult, a tracheostomy may leave a permanent opening (stoma) in your neck.
Difficulty eating – in most cases, after surgery, you will have difficulty swallowing foods of a certain consistency. In addition, if you had radiotherapy treatment, you may experience difficulty chewing or opening your mouth widely.
Loss of voice – removal of the larynx can affect your vocal chords and prevent you from speaking normally. Today, there are methods used to help patients facing these problems:
- Esophageal speech (or voice) – this alternate method allows you to vocalize without the oscillation in your vocal cords; it involves swallowing air and expelling it to produce sounds. Esophageal speech is the basic method to replace the normal voice; however, you will need a speech therapist at the beginning to help you become familiar with the technique.
- Tracheoesophageal (TE) voice prosthesis – this technique involves placing a small valve between the trachea and esophagus. It allows you to produce TE speech by shunting air from the lungs into the esophagus, which vibrate the esophageal tissue. This medical device is usually recommended by a laryngologist or a speech-language pathologist for voice rehabilitation following a total laryngectomy.
- Electrolarynx – this is an electronic device used to produce clearer speech by those who have lost their original voicebox, usually due to cancer of the larynx. Held near the skin of the throat or the corner of the mouth, the device produces a mechanical voice that helps the wearer communicate in a comfortable and familiar way.