What Does Throat Cancer Look Like?

Throat cancer refers to cancer that may arise from tissue in the tonsils, voicebox, or the throat itself.  You may experience a variety of symptoms when there are cancerous cells in these locations. These signs and symptoms may vary depending on the exact size and location of the tumor. Sometimes, people ignore the symptoms of throat cancer because they overlap with symptoms from other common illnesses. People who smoke tobacco or drink alcohol are at an increased risk of throat cancer. You can have it treated if you could identify it early, and for that, you need to know the answer to, "What does throat cancer look like?" Let's find out more about it.

What Does Throat Cancer Look Like?

Most types of throat cancers begin in squamous cells that look like thin scales. This type of cell can penetrate into deeper tissues of the muscles. Sometimes, throat cancer looks like white patch of tissue, also known as leukoplakia. It is easy to see the leukoplakia under imaging test.

What does throat cancer look like? The answer really depends on what part of the throat has cancerous cells. In other words, the location of the tumor along with the stage of its development plays a big role in determining the appearance of throat cancer. For instance, if you have cancer of larynx, it may look like red patches but with an irregular surface. There may also be sores of lesions and heaped up cells.

It is important to point out that you may develop a lump like bulging blistered when you have an advanced staged throat cancer. It sometimes feels like accumulated growth of cells. The tumor may sometimes be round and hanging on the lining of the throat.

How Will It Feel?

You will experience a feeling of discomfort when you have throat cancer. It often feels as if something is stuck in your throat, which will lead to persistent coughing. Sometimes, you feel there is a lump in your throat but it is not there in reality. The feeling is called 'globus hystericus' and is common when you have a tumor in the larynx. You will be coughing a lot in an effort to get rid of that lump or foreign body. Persistent cough may eventually lead to irritation and ulceration of the throat, which may produce bloody sputum. In case of a true lump, you will also experience pain and discomfort when swallowing.

Signs of Throat Cancer

What does throat cancer look like? How will you feel when you have a tumor in your throat? The answer depends on the location and size of the tumor. Here are some common signs associated with throat cancer.

Sore Throat and Difficulty Swallowing

A persistent sore throat and painful swallowing may indicate throat cancer. You may also feel as if you have something lodged in your throat. Keep in mind that it is possible to develop pharyngitis because of a viral infection – it could also be due to strep throat. However, the condition usually resolves in a week or so. If you have a persistent sore throat with painful swallowing, you may go talk to your doctor for further evaluation.


Hoarseness may indicate cancer of the larynx, but do not automatically assume that a change in your voice is because of throat cancer. That is mainly because it can also happen due to a viral infection of the voice box called laryngitis. Your voice will return to normal when the infection resolves. Be sure to talk to your doctor if you notice a progressive change in your voice.

Cough and Breathing Difficulty

It is natural to have a cough reflex when it feels that sometimes is there in your throat, and that is how you are going to feel when you have throat cancer. A cancerous tumor can lead to a persistent cough, which is your body's reaction to something lodged into your throat. Depending on the location and size of the tumor, you may also have breathing difficulty, especially when your tumor is large enough obstruct airflow. You should talk to your doctor if you have a persistent cough.

Neck Lump

In advanced stages of throat cancer, it is possible to develop a lump in your neck. Keep in mind that you may also notice transient neck lumps when you have upper respiratory infections; however, you will actually have enlarged lymph nodes when you have strep throat or another type of upper respiratory infection. If a neck lump goes away, this is probably because you had a swollen lymph node. If the lump persists, it could indicate throat cancer.

Other Signs and Symptoms

With a change in the location and size of your tumor, there will be a change in the signs and symptoms you experience. Sometimes, you experience ear pain when you have throat cancer. There may be blood in your saliva when you have cancer of the tonsils – you may also notice severe pain when eating acidic foods, such as tomato sauce or citrus fruit.

 Seek Treatment Immediately

If you suspect your symptoms are associated with throat cancer, you should seek immediate medical assistance. It is possible that your symptoms are due to many other less serious problems, but it is better to rule out the possibility of having throat cancer. Keep in mind that early diagnosis can greatly improve your chances for a cure.

Available Treatment Options

How your doctor decides to treat your throat cancer will depend on the size and location of the cancer. Your age, personal preference, overall health, and the type of cells involved in throat cancer will also help determine the best treatment option. Here are some of the most common treatment options:

  • Chemotherapy: Your doctor may decide to use chemotherapy with radiation therapy to get optimal results, but some patients are not a good candidate for chemotherapy because they cannot tolerate the side effects. Be sure to discuss risks and benefits of chemotherapy before going any further.
  • Radiation Therapy: It usually helps treat early stage cancer. Your doctor will use radiation therapy along with chemotherapy if you have an advanced stage throat cancer. The therapy can be performed through brachytherapy or through external beam radiation.
  • Surgery: Depending on the location and size of the cancer, your doctor may recommend surgery. The procedure involves removing the tumor through endoscopy. Sometimes, they may decide to remove the voice box to eliminate the tumor.
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