The truth about throat cancer

The sudden loss of rock and roll icon Eddie Van Halen, who was best known for his extraordinary, and often acrobatic, guitar playing puts the spotlight on the tragic disease that took his and over 3,500 people’s lives this year: throat cancer.

Throat cancer, also called laryngeal or hypopharyngeal cancer, begins as any other cancer would, with mutated cells growing at uncontrollable rates that will eventually accumulate and create a tumor in your throat or voice box.

There are several different types of cancer under the hypopharyngeal cancer umbrella:

  • Nasopharyngeal cancer – affects the portion of your throat just behind your nose
  • Oropharyngeal cancer – affects the portion of your mouth that includes your tonsils
  • Glottic cancer – affects the vocal cords
  • Supraglottic cancer – affects the epiglottis (a small flap in your windpipe that prevents food from going down the windpipe instead of the esophagus)
  • Subglottic cancer – affects the lower portion of your vocal cords
  • Hypopharyngeal cancer-affects the inlet to the esophagus or swallowing tube

The signs and symptoms for throat cancer are similar to a wide variety of diseases, such as a cough, ear pain, sore throat or trouble swallowing. However, the hallmark signs include a lump or sore that doesn’t heal and weight loss.

Van Halen first developed tongue cancer in 2000, where physicians removed a third of his tongue to remove the cancer. Van Halen credited the disease to his lifestyle choices, many of which are risk factors for throat cancer such as:

  • Tobacco use
  • Excessive alcohol use
  • Contracting the human papillomavirus (HPV)
  • Lack of fruits and vegetables in your diet
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)

If you believe you may be at risk for throat cancer or would like to be screened, the UofL Health – UofL Physicians – Ear, Nose & Throat team (Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery) is here for you. To schedule an appointment, call 502-583-3687 or visit UofLPhysicians.com.

If you’ve been diagnosed with cancer, call UofL Health – James Graham Brown Cancer Center at 502-562-HOPE (4673) or visit our website at UofLBrownCancerCenter.org.