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Throat cancer: Risk factors and symptoms you should know

Throat cancer is commonly misdiagnosed as everything from acid reflux disease to tonsillitis -- and the disease grows rapidly.

That means that the best protection you have against delayed treatment is to educate yourself about the risk factors and symptoms.

Risk Factors

While anyone can actually get throat cancer, there are some people who are more at risk than others:

  • Men
  • People aged 65 and older
  • African-Americans
  • People with a history of chemical exposure
  • Smokers
  • Heavy drinkers
  • People exposed to the human papillomavirus (HPV)

The more risk factors you have, the more reason you have to be concerned if you have symptoms that could be indicative of throat cancer.

Symptoms

It's important to understand that you don't have to have all of these symptoms to have cancer. Any of the following problems that remain persistent are a cause for concern:

  • Trouble swallowing
  • Changes in the quality or timber of your voice
  • Unexplained lumps in your neck
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Abnormal headaches
  • A sore throat
  • A chronic cough
  • Constant earaches

While all of these could be nothing more than a cold -- even a lump in your neck could be a swollen gland -- make sure you see your doctor if the symptoms last for more than a couple weeks.

Survival Rates

The reason that an early, accurate diagnosis of throat cancer is so important is that your chances of long-term survival drastically decrease as the cancer progresses.

For example, your odds of surviving cancer of the glottis (which is the part of your throat that includes the larynx and vocal cords) is 90 percent if the cancer is diagnosed while it's still in the first stage. If the cancer reaches the second stage, your chances of survival drop to only 74 percent. By the time it reaches the fourth, or final stage, you only have a 44 percent chance of long-term survival.

Anyone who is victimized by a failure to diagnose throat cancer should speak to an attorney about the possibility of a lawsuit. Even if you ultimately survive the cancer, it's likely that a misdiagnosis will cause you to go through more extensive treatment than you would have needed if the cancer had been caught earlier.

Source: WebMD, "What You Need to Know About Throat Cancer," accessed July 28, 2017

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