Throat cancer symptoms: Are you at risk? Six key warning signs

Throat cancer, also known as laryngeal cancer, is a type of cancer affects the larynx – a part of the throat found at the entrance of the windpipe.

The larynx plays an important role in helping you breathe and speak so throat cancer can impair these vital bodily functions.

The symptoms associated with throat cancer are often caused by less serious conditions, such as laryngitis, but it’s important to get them checked out as early diagnosis is essential to improving outcomes.


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According to the NHS, the main symptoms of throat cancer include:

  • A change in your voice, such as sounding hoarse
  • Pain when swallowing or difficulty swallowing
  • A lump or swelling in your neck
  • A long-lasting cough
  • A persistent sore throat or earache
  • In severe cases, difficulty breathing

Some people may also experience bad breath, breathlessness, a high-pitched wheezing noise when breathing, unexplained weight loss, or fatigue (extreme tiredness), notes the health site.

If you experience these main symptoms for more than three weeks, you should consult your GP, advises the health body.

If necessary, your GP can refer you to a hospital specialist for further tests to confirm or rule out cancer, it says.

Risk factors

According to Cancer Research UK, smoking is one of the main risk factors for throat cancer: “When you smoke, it passes through the larynx on its way to your lungs. This smoke contains harmful chemicals. Smoking tobacco (cigarettes, pipes, cigars) increases your risk of developing laryngeal cancer.”

Other risk factors include:

  • Regularly drinking large amounts of alcohol
  • Having a family history of head and neck cancer
  • Having an unhealthy diet
  • Exposure to certain chemicals and substances, such as asbestos and coal dust

One study also found a link between drinking hot tea and type of throat cancer, advising people against drinking tea that is fresh off the boil.

The study, published in the British Medical Journal, found that drinking very hot tea (70°C or more) can increase the risk of the most common type of cancer of the oesophagus, the muscular tube that carries food from the throat to the stomach.

Oesophageal squamous cell carcinoma (OSCC) is the most common type of mouth cancer, accounting for nine out of 10 cases, according to the NHS.

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The study was conducted in Golestan Province in Northern Iran, which has one of the highest rates of OSCC in the world, but rates of smoking and alcohol consumption are low and women are as likely to have a diagnosis as men.

Tea drinking, however, is widespread, so the researchers set out to investigate a possible link between tea drinking habits and risk of OSCC.

They studied tea drinking habits among 300 people diagnosed with OSCC and a matched group of 571 healthy controls from the same area. Nearly all participants drank black tea regularly, with an average volume consumed of over one litre a day.

Compared with drinking warm or lukewarm tea (65°C or less), drinking hot tea (65-69°C) was associated with twice the risk of oesophageal cancer, and drinking very hot tea (70°C or more) was associated with eight-fold increased risk.


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Furthermore, compared with drinking tea four or more minutes after being poured, drinking tea less than two minutes after pouring was associated with a five-fold higher risk.

In an accompanying editorial, David Whiteman from the Queensland Institute of Medical Research in Australia said that the study provides persuasive that drinking tea at temperatures greater than 70°C markedly increases the risk of oesophageal cancer.

However, the finding should not put people off drinking tea altogether, he said, but people should exercise a little caution when consuming the popular drink.

Whiteman suggested waiting at least four minutes before drinking a cup of freshly boiled tea, or more generally allowing foods and beverages to cool from “scalding” to “tolerable” before swallowing.


According to the NHS, the outlook for laryngeal cancer depends on the extent of the cancer when it’s diagnosed and treated.

Fortunately, most laryngeal cancers are diagnosed at an early stage, which means the outlook is generally better than some other types of cancer.

Overall, about 70 out of every 100 people will live for at least five years after diagnosis and about 60 out of every 100 people will live for at least ten years, says the health site.

It added: “If you smoke, stopping smoking after being diagnosed with laryngeal cancer may improve your outlook.”

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