Throat cancer | Miami Cancer Institute

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The Miami Cancer Institute’s head and neck cancer specialists combine globally recognized medical expertise, innovation and compassionate care to detect and treat your specific cancer. By creating accurate, personalized treatment plans that incorporate groundbreaking discoveries and collaborations with other world-renowned cancer researchers, the Cancer Institute’s experts work together to design the best, most effective treatment plan for you.

What is throat cancer?

Throat cancer, which is considered a form of Head and Neck Canceroccurs when malignant (cancerous) cells form in the tissues of the pharynx (the tube that connects the nose to the esophagus), the larynx (where your larynx is located) and/or surrounding tissues and cartilage, including the tonsils and the base of the tongue.

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Medical illustration of head and neck cancer areas.

In the early stages of the disease, throat cancer cells are usually thin and flat and resemble fish scales. The medical term for this type of cancer cell is: squamous cell carcinoma.

What are the types of throat cancer?

Nasopharyngeal Cancer forms in the nasopharynx, the upper part of the pharynx directly behind the nose. This type of throat cancer is the only one squamous cell head and neck cancers that researchers have not linked to excessive tobacco use or moderate alcohol use. However, it has its own set of unique risk factors, including ethnic background and exposure to the Epstein-Barr virus.

Oropharyngeal Cancer cells grow in the middle part of the pharynx behind the mouth, but this cancer also affects the soft palate, sides and back of the throat, and the base of the tongue. Smoking and exposure to the Human papillomavirus (HPV) puts patients at greater risk of contracting this disease.

hypopharyngeal cancer cells form in the tissue of the hypopharynx and/or the swallowing passages. An increased risk of hypopharyngeal cancer has been associated with eating a diet lacking the proper nutrients and having Plummer-Vinson syndrome.

As with other cancers, throat cancers (which often go unnoticed at first because early signs are difficult to pinpoint) have specific types. In addition, cancer cells can spread to surrounding tissues, cartilage, bones, or other parts of the body.

Forecast and treatment options vary depending on each person’s own genetic makeup, the location of the cancer cells, and the stage of the cancer.

What are the risk factors for throat cancer?

A risk factor is anything that increases your chance of developing a disease. However, having risk factors doesn’t necessarily mean you will get cancer, so it’s important to know your own personal risk factors and discuss any concerns with your doctor.

While the effects of throat cancer can be significant, the disease is often treatable if detected and diagnosed early.

Tobacco and alcohol use are two of the biggest risk factors for throat cancer, but researchers have identified certain other risk factors that make some people more likely to develop the disease:

  • Being male (Men are up to five times more likely than women to get throat cancer.)
  • Ethnicity (African Americans are at greater risk of developing throat cancer than people of other ethnicities, and those of Chinese or other East Asian ancestry are at greater risk of developing nasopharyngeal cancer specifically)
  • Being over 65
  • Exposure to asbestos and chemicals such as nickel, sulfuric acid and paint fumes
  • Exposure to the Human Papillomavirus (HPV)
  • Exposure to the Epstein-Barr virus


Preventing throat cancer, or at least reducing your risk, often involves changing lifestyle behaviors and certain environmental exposures.

This includes eliminating tobacco use, drinking alcohol in moderation, avoiding certain environmental and chemical exposures (such as asbestos, nickel, sulfuric acid, and paint fumes), and getting vaccinated against HPV.

At the Cancer Institute, our team of throat cancer experts will discuss with you which tests are best for your individual needs and which additional steps you can take to lower your risk of developing this disease.

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