Throat cancer symptoms

This page was reviewed under our medical and editorial policy by

Maurie Markman, MD, President, Medicine & Science

This page was updated on June 3, 2022.

The signs and symptoms of throat cancer may be difficult to identify in the early stages of the disease. Because throat cancer is a type of head and neck cancer, many throat cancer symptoms, such as a sore throat or hoarseness, are the same as those that may accompany a head cold.

Early warning signs of throat cancer

The most common early warning sign of throat cancer is a persistent sore throat. The American Cancer Society recommends that anyone with a sore throat that lasts for more than two weeks see a doctor immediately.

Ask us about the symptoms of throat cancer

Our virtual assistant is available 24 hours a day. We are here to provide information on various cancer types and information about City of Hope services.


Advanced throat cancer symptoms

The three main types of throat cancerlaryngeal cancer, hypopharyngeal cancer and oropharyngeal cancer, which includes oral cancers—share many common symptoms. Many throat cancer symptoms do not develop in the early stages of the disease. Signs of throat cancer may first be found by a dentist or doctor treating another disease or condition. Common symptoms of throat cancer include:

  • Persistent cough
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • A lump in the mouth, throat or neck
  • Hoarseness or other voice changes
  • Ear or jaw pain
  • White patches or sores in the mouth or throat
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Headaches
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Swelling of the eyes, jaw, throat or neck
  • Bleeding in the mouth or nose
  • Trouble opening the mouth

Some symptoms of throat cancer are specific to certain areas of the body. For instance, voice changes may be a sign of laryngeal cancer (cancer affecting the voice box), but they would rarely indicate cancer of the pharynx.

Metastatic throat cancer symptoms

Throat cancer may spread locally to the lips, mouth or nearby lymph nodes. Throat cancer that has spread to distant parts of the body is called metastatic throat cancer, which is most often found in the lungs, bones and/or distant lymph nodes.

The symptoms of metastatic throat cancer may depend on the part of the body to which the cancer has spread. For instance:

  • If the cancer has spread to the lungs, symptoms may include difficulty breathing or coughing up blood.
  • If the cancer has spread to the bones, symptoms may include bone or joint pain or fractures.

Learn more about metastasis

Managing symptoms and side effects at City of Hope

The symptoms of throat cancer and side effects of treatment may cause pain and discomfort that impact your quality of life. At City of Hope, our cancer experts combine conventional treatments with supportive care services to help manage symptoms and side effects, help you stay strong and maintain your treatment schedule. Supportive care services for throat cancer may include:

Learn more about integrative care

Get expert advice and care at City of Hope

Understanding when symptoms of throat cancer are a sign of something serious and either diagnosing the disease or confirming a previous diagnosis require expertise from professionals trained and experienced in treating throat cancer. At City of Hope, our throat cancer experts treat all stages of the disease.  

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