Cancer Immunotherapy

Throat Cancer

The throat, or pharynx, is a hollow tube about 5 inches long that starts at the back of the nasal cavity and leads to the esophagus.

Throat cancer often starts in the squamous (SKWAY-mus) cells that line its mucus membranes. These cancers may be more specifically referred to by the affected region. Nasopharyngeal cancer begins in the nasopharynx behind the nose. This diagnosis may be linked to the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV)*. Oropharyngeal cancer occurs in the oropharynx, the middle region that includes the soft palate (back of the roof of the mouth), base of the tongue and tonsils. The majority of oropharyngeal cancers are related to the human papillomavirus, or HPV (see Know the Risks below). Hypopharyngeal cancer starts in the hypopharynx, the lowest region.

Symptoms may include a persistent sore throat; painful swallowing; difficulty moving the tongue, fully opening the mouth, swallowing, breathing or speaking; ear pain or decreased hearing; voice changes; or a lump in the back of the mouth, throat or neck.

* Also known as human herpesvirus 4, it is one of the most common human viruses.




People who have been diagnosed with head and neck cancer have an increased chance of developing another primary cancer, making it important to be aware of certain risk factors.

  • Human papillomavirus (HPV) is particularly associated with cancers of the oropharynx (back of the throat), including the tonsils and base of tongue. HPV vaccines are now available to help prevent HPV-related cancer and other conditions
  • Cigarette smoking
  • Chewing tobacco
  • Excessive use of alcohol
  • Poor dental hygiene

The risk is higher for people who use both tobacco and alcohol than for people who use only one or the other.

For more information about reducing your risk of head and neck cancer, talk with a member of your health care team or use the following resources.

  • American Cancer Society: 866-QUIT-4-LIFE (866-784-8454)
  • American Lung Association: 800-LUNGUSA (800-586-4872)
  • American Society of Clinical Oncology:
    • Health Risks of E-cigarettes, Smokeless Tobacco and Waterpipes
    • HPV and Cancer
    • Stopping Tobacco Use After a Cancer Diagnosis
  • National Cancer Institute:
    • Alcohol and Cancer Risk
  • 877-44U-QUIT (877-448-7848)
  • U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: 800-QUIT-NOW (800-784-8669)