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Throat Cancer

The throat consists of the pharynx - the area behind the mouth and nasal cavity - and the larynx - your voice box. An important feature of the throat is the epiglottis, which is a flap separating the esophagus from the trachea (windpipe). The epiglottis closes when you eat or drink to prevent inhalation of food or liquids.

The throat also contains blood vessels, pharynx muscles, the trachea and esophagus. The only bones in the throat area are the hyoid bone under your chin and clavicle (collar) bone.

About Throat Cancer

Cancer that occurs in the larynx and pharynx - which includes the base of the tongue and tonsils - is commonly called throat cancer. Throat cancer often develops from squamous cells (flat, thin, scale-like cells) on the moist tissue lining the larynx, pharynx or mouth.

Throat cancer usually develops in adults over 50.1 Men are 10 times more likely than women to develop the disease.1 Worldwide, there are about 290,000 cases of throat cancer diagnosed each year.2 An examination of the neck and throat may show the presence of the cancer.

Causes & Risk Factors of Throat Cancer

Different cancers have different causes, and specific risk factors may increase your chances of developing cancer. It is important to know the risk factors of cancer so appropriate action can be taken such as changing a behavior or being monitored closely for a potential cancer. But, people with one or more risk factors may never develop the disease, while others diagnosed with throat cancer may have no known risk factors.

Risk factors of throat cancer include:

  • Alcohol and tobacco use
  • Male gender
  • Older age
  • Contracting HPV (human papillomavirus)

Symptoms of Throat Cancer

While symptoms may be a sign of some other condition, It is important to be aware of the signs and symptoms of throat cancer since it is highly curable when found early.1 Common symptoms of throat cancer may include:1

  • Sputum (coughed-up mucus) may be bloody
  • Lump may appear on the outside of the neck
  • Abnormal-sounding breathing
  • Chronic cough
  • Neck pain or swelling
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Throat pain

Screening & Testing

Screening tests are often used because they can be helpful in finding cancers early and decreasing the chance of dying from cancer. There are no standard or routine screening tests for throat cancer. Screening may be done during a regular check-up by your dentist or doctor. The exam will include looking for lesions and white or red patches of cells that have the potential of becoming cancerous.

Stages of Throat Cancer

Staging is the process of finding out how far a cancer has spread. The outlook (prognosis) for people with cancer depends, to a large extent, on the cancer's stage and is one of the most important factors in choosing treatment. Staging is based on information about how cancer initially develops, grows and/or spreads. Staging information is based on the results of the physical exam, endoscopy, and imaging tests (CT scan, MRI, chest x-ray, and/or PET scans).

Treatments & Surgical Options for Throat Cancer

After a diagnosis of throat cancer is made and the stage (extent) of the cancer determined, your doctor will suggest treatment options. The goal of treatment is to remove the cancer and prevent it from spreading. Treatments and surgical options may include:1

PN 1002293 Rev B 06/13
  1. National Institutes of Health; Cancer- throat or larynx; Available from: www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/001042.htm.
  2. A Cancer Journal for Clinicians; American Cancer Society; Global Cancer Statistics, 2002. Available from: www.caonline.amcancersoc.org.
  3. American Cancer Society, HPV a Risk Factor for Oropharyngeal Cancer. Available from: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/hpv-oropharyngeal-cancer0507.

The da Vinci System is indicated for transoral otolaryngologic surgical procedures (i.e., use in removing tumors from the mouth, tonsils, tongue and throat through the mouth), but restricted to cancerous and non-cancerous tumors classified as T1 and T2 (i.e., early and mid stage cancers only). The da Vinci® System is not indicated for pediatric transoral otolaryngology surgical procedures. The safety and effectiveness of the da Vinci Surgical System has not been established in patients with poor mouth openings (< 1.5 cm), advanced tumors (e.g., invading the mandible, abutting the carotid artery, requiring bone resection, etc.). The da Vinci® System is not recommended for use in dental surgery (i.e. tooth extraction).

All surgery presents risk, including da Vinci® Surgery and other minimally invasive procedures.  Serious complications may occur in any surgery, up to and including death. Examples of serious or life-threatening complications which may require hospitalization include injury to tissues or organs, bleeding, infection or internal scarring that can cause long-lasting dysfunction or pain. Temporary pain or nerve injury has been linked to the inverted position often used during abdominal and pelvic surgery. Risks of surgery also include potential for equipment failure and human error. Risks specific to minimally invasive surgery may include: A long operation and time under anesthesia, conversion to another technique or the need for additional or larger incisions.  If your surgeon needs to convert the procedure, it could mean a long operative time with additional time under anesthesia and increased complications. Temporary pain or discomfort may result from pneumoperitoneum, the presence of air or gas in the abdominal cavity used by surgeons in minimally invasive surgery. Research suggests that there could be an increased risk of incision-site hernia with single-incision surgery. Results, including cosmetic results, may vary.  Patients who bleed easily, who have abnormal blood clotting, are pregnant or morbidly obese are typically not candidates for minimally invasive surgery, including da Vinci® Surgery. For more complete information on surgical risks, safety, and indications for use, please refer to http://www.davincisurgery.com/safety/. Patients should talk to their doctors about their surgical experience and to decide if da Vinci Surgery is right for them. Other options may be available. Intuitive Surgical reviews clinical literature from the highest level of evidence available to provide benefit and risk information about use of the da Vinci Surgical System in specific representative procedures. We encourage patients and physicians to review all available information on surgical options and treatment in order to make an informed decision. Clinical studies are available through the National Library of Medicine at www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed.

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