In Australia, and across the developed world, we are seeing a change in throat cancer. In the past throat cancer was mainly due to tobacco smoking and alcohol, and seen more in elderly patients. Now we are seeing many non-smokers, typically in their 40s or 50s, present with throat cancer, particularly in the tonsils or tongue. Unlike other cancers in the Head & Neck, these cancers are increasing in frequency. These new cancers are due to infection with the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) which is also known to cause cancers in other parts of the body.
Throat cancer can be difficult to detect as it often does not cause many symptoms. Frequently a neck lump is the first sign of this cancer. Other symptoms may include:
- Pain in the throat or neck
- Lump in the throat
- Trouble swallowing or breathing
- Hoarse voice that does not improve with time
- Ulcer on the tongue or mouth that does not heal with time
A complete examination including a nasendoscopy - a small camera placed through the nose to examine the throat and larynx (voice box) is needed to diagnose a throat cancer. Full investigations such as ultrasound, CT & MRI scans and a needle biopsy will also help to confirm your diagnosis.
For the last two decades throat cancer has been treated with radiation therapy, however a new surgical option has been used in many parts of the world and has recently been introduced to Melbourne by the Head & Neck team at Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre. Dr Magarey uses Trans-Oral Robotic Surgery (TORS) at both Epworth Richmond, and Peter MacCallum. He will discuss with you whether this technique is suitable for your cancer and take time to answer your questions.