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Is this the Flu or Throat Cancer?

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You may be surprised to know that Influenza (flu) and the early signs of throat cancer share similar symptoms. Distinguishing between the two could save your life. Treating throat cancer early offers the best chance for recovery.

Early signs of throat cancer that mimic the flu include:

• cough
• changes in your voice, such as hoarseness
• difficulty swallowing or chewing
• ear pain
• sore throat that does not get better, even when antibiotics are used

The main difference between the flu and throat cancer is the flu goes away, throat cancer doesn’t. If this happens to you, don’t ignore it.

If you notice there is no positive change in your symptoms within two weeks, or the symptoms worsen, see your doctor immediately and insist on further checks.

You should also see your doctor if you discover new symptoms, such as:

• a lump (typically painless) in your neck or throat
• a sore on the lip or inside the mouth that doesn’t heal
• unexplained weight loss
• coughing up blood
• difficulty swallowing
• abnormal high-pitched breathing sounds

Most throat cancers develop in adults older than 50. Men are 10 times more likely than women to develop throat cancers.

People who smoke or use tobacco are at greater risk of developing throat cancer than nonsmokers. Excessive alcohol use also increases risk. Smoking and drinking alcohol combined lead to an increased risk for throat cancers.

Other risk factors for throat cancer are being infected with the human papillomavirus (HPV), not eating enough fruits and vegetables in your diet, drinking maté, a stimulant drink common in South America and chewing betel quid, a stimulant commonly used in parts of Asia.

Throat cancers (sometimes referred to as vocal cord cancer or voice box cancer, laryngeal cancer, or cancer of the glottis) can be cured in 90 percent of patients if detected early.

If the cancer has spread to surrounding tissues or lymph nodes in the neck, 50 - 60 percent of patients can be cured. If the cancer has spread (metastasized) to parts of the body outside the head and neck, the cancer is not curable and treatment is aimed at prolonging and improving quality of life, according to the National Cancer Institute.

The nonprofit Oral Cancer Foundation is a resource for those recovering from the throat cancer and provides detailed information on the link between tobacco, alcohol and the HPV virus to oral cancers.

Another patient resource, The Head and Neck Cancer Alliance (formerly the Yul Brynner Head and Neck Cancer Foundation) offers free head and neck cancer screenings and provides support to cancer patients.

WebWhispers , a worldwide Internet support group for larynx cancer survivors and their caregivers, provides tips and support for those who have had a laryngectomy.

Lynette Summerill is an award-winning writer and Scuba enthusiast living in San Diego, CA with her husband and two beach loving dogs. In addition to writing about cancer-related issues for EmpowHER, her work has been seen in newspapers and magazines around the world.

Sources and Patient Information:

Throat or larynx cancer. National Library of Medicine and National Institutes of Health. Access Feb. 23, 2012. online at: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/001042.htm

Throat cancer Facts. Helen Diller Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of California-San Francisco. Access Feb. 23, 2012. at: http://www.ucsfhealth.org/conditions/throat_cancer

Throat Cancer or Larynx cancer - Its Signs, Symptoms and Treatments.
Cancer-Info-Guide.com. Accessed Feb. 23, 2012.

Reviewed February 23, 2012
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.