Throat cancer patient with arms folded

Throat cancer

This page was reviewed under our medical and editorial policy by Maurie Markman, MD, President, Medicine & Science

This page was updated on July 20, 2022.

Throat cancer develops at the back of the mouth, tonsils, voice box, base of the tongue, sinus and nasal cavities, salivary glands, soft palate and lymph nodes in the neck. According to the American Cancer Society, 21,830 people in the United States will develop cancer of pharynx in 2024, while 12,650 will develop cancer of the larynx. Although incidence and mortality rates for this type of cancer have declined over the past few decades, throat cancers linked to human papillomavirus (HPV) infection are on the rise, particularly among men.

No throat cancer patient is the same. Get personalized treatment.

Experts hope increased awareness of throat cancer’s link to HPV, and new and innovative treatment options, will help more patients survive the disease and improve their quality of life. Flexible robotic surgery, for example, is a minimally invasive treatment option that may lead to a quicker recovery for some head and neck cancer patients. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration also has approved immunotherapy drugs, such as checkpoint inhibitors, to treat some cases of advanced head and neck squamous cell carcinoma. These are among the array of treatment options available to throat cancer patients at City of Hope, where multidisciplinary teams of cancer experts work together to tailor personalized treatment plans to the needs of each patient.

This overview will cover the basic facts about throat cancer, including:

If you believe you may be experiencing symptoms of throat cancer and want to schedule an appointment for diagnostic testing, or if you’re interested in a second opinion for your throat cancer diagnosis and treatment plan, call us or chat online with a member of our team.

Learn about throat cancer

Throat cancer types

There are three main types of throat cancer:

Oropharyngeal cancer forms in the back and side walls of the throat, the soft palate, tonsils and base of the tongue.

Laryngeal cancer forms in the larynx.

Hypopharyngeal cancer forms in the bottom part of the throat.

Learn more about the types of throat cancer

What causes throat cancer?

Who gets throat cancer?

Statistics for oropharyngeal and oral cancers are combined. The National Cancer Institute (NCI) estimates that about 51,000 Americans a year will develop those cancers, and that more 13,000 people will develop cancer in the larynx annually. According to the NCI:

  • Men are at a significantly higher risk than women of developing throat tumors. Men are five times more likely to develop cancer of the larynx and three times more likely to develop oral or oropharyngeal tumors.
  • African American men are at the highest risk of developing cancer of the larynx.
  • The risk of throat cancer jumps significantly with age.
Hector Nunez

Hector N.

Head and Neck Cancer

"I met with my care team to evaluate my specific cancer and discuss treatment. Everyone was so warm, and made us feel safe and at peace. There is simply a wonderful atmosphere of togetherness at the hospital, and I knew it was where I wanted to go for treatment. Later, I learned that is one of the guiding principles of City of Hope—to treat patients as you would any member of your own family."


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How to check for throat cancer

Oropharyngeal cancers or pre-cancerous conditions in the oropharynx may be detected early during an annual physical with a doctor, during regular dental check-ups or with periodic self-examinations. Sores in the mouth or throat, lumps or white patches may be early signs of oropharyngeal cancer.

Screening for other types of throat cancer may be more difficult. However, these cancers may be detected early by visiting a doctor when symptoms develop. Common symptoms of throat cancer include voice changes, a chronic cough, sore throat or other type of throat pain, difficulty swallowing, lumps or swelling in the throat or lymph nodes.

Get answers to key questions about throat cancer

Diagnosing throat cancer

Throat cancer treatment options

Treatment for throat cancer may depend on the type and stage of the disease, among other factors. Treatment options for throat cancer include:

Learn more about treatment options for throat cancer 

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