What Does Throat Cancer Look Like

Another type of throat cancer, submucous fibrosis, is defined by the hardening of mucosal tissues. It is most often caused by the chewing of betel nut in Southeast Asian cultures, but also sometimes seen in people who chew tobacco.

Sometimes, lesions are a mix of red and white, referred to as erythroleukoplakias or “speckled leukoplakias.” Although the lesions most commonly occur on the floor of the tongue, they can also develop on tissues behind the back teeth, including the upper throat.

Surgery: This seeks to completely remove the cancerous growth while preserving as much normal tissue as possible. Removing portions or all of a vocal cord can have profound effects on voice and swallowing, and specialists in this type of surgery will try to completely remove the tumor while sparing as much normal tissue as possible. Surgery can often be performed through the mouth but occasionally an open surgery through the neck is needed.

Throat Cancer

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If a suspicious lesion is seen during an office exam, a biopsy is most often performed in the operating room. Based on the size, appearance and location of the lesion, either some or all of it may be removed. If the results indicate a precancerous lesion only, your treatment team will discuss the best follow-up plan for you, which may include a series of follow-up examinations and possibly repeated treatments over time to keep it from progressing. If the results of a biopsy indicate cancer, more aggressive treatment is often needed.

The characteristic symptoms of HPV-associated throat cancer include a swollen tongue, tiny lumps inside the mouth, and mouth numbness. The persistence of symptoms is a telltale sign, particularly in younger people who do not smoke.

According to the National Cancer Institute, there were more than 53,000 cases of oral and pharynx cancer in 2020. Approximately 10,000 patients who have been diagnosed with these cancers died. The five-year survival rate for these cancers is about 66%.

What Does Throat Cancer Look Like

Nasal Polyps

Mucus retention cyst
Small mucus retention cyst and capillary ectasia, left vocal fold. Note yellowish color and origin from just below free margin, as well as normal right vocal fold (Lab).

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Tracheal papillomas (RRP)
Papillomas in patient with recurrent respiratory papillomatosis (RRP) involving subglottis and very high trachea (Lab).

A diagnosis of throat cancer is made after much testing and examination by your doctor. Tests will include a physical exam, where your doctor will use their hands to feel for swollen lymph nodes and other nodules. They’ll also test to see if you have HPV.

Cancer, supraglottic
Cancer involving the supraglottic larynx. The airway (dark area) and vocal fold are partially obscured by out-growing tumor (Lab).

10 Warning Signs Of Throat Cancer You Should Not Ignore!

Some throat cancers begin as oral leukoplakia, a general term for a white lesion in the mouth of an unknown cause.

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A Red Patch

These lesions typically start in the mouth and gums, but can also involve the throat. They can cause burning sensations after eating spicy foods, and cause pain when eating and difficulty opening the mouth.

Intubation injury
Intubation injury at posterior commissure. Note that the posterior portion of each fold has a divot or “cookie bite” where the breathing tube created pressure necrosis (Lab).

What do cancerous throat polyps look like

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Leukoplakias are premalignant lesions, which means they’re not cancerous yet, but could develop into cancer. About 3% to 17.5% of these lesions are or will become cancerous in 15 years, while others go away independently.

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A White Patch

Coughing up blood is extremely rare. It can result from timor cells eroding into blood vessels. This is a sign of end-stage disease with a grim prognosis. An additional symptom is loose teeth, which can develop as the tumor spreads to the bones of the jaw and teeth.

Post-intubation injury
Severe injury from prolonged intubation. There are divots at posterior 1/3 of each vocal fold. Thin dark line demonstrates expected continuation of fold, to accentuate the divot (small black arrow). Subglottic stenosis seen faintly in the receding darkness below the folds (OR).

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