The symptoms of squamous
cell cancer depend on where it occurs. Thus, each area will be covered
Although oral cancers can have a variety of appearances, one advantage
is that they are usually visible at an early stage. They can appear as
“punched out” areas where the mucosa is eaten away, or as
raised, irregular growths that are usually red and irritated-looking.
They can be painful or painless, but are often sensitive to acidic or
spicy foods. Any unusual growth or area in the mouth that has not gone
away in three weeks or is getting larger needs to be examined by an otolaryngologist,
although fortunately many of these will turn out to be benign.
The pharynx includes both the part of the mouth from the tonsils back
and the area of the throat that is behind and below the tongue. The throat
area of the pharynx usually cannot be seen directly because the tongue
is in the way. Cancers of the pharynx are usually painless in their early
stages, and are notorious for not being noticed until they have grown
large enough to interfere with swallowing. I should note that the nagging
sensation of something stuck in the throat is a common symptom that is
usually benign (please see “Lump in Throat” to the left),
but the only way to be sure of this is to be examined by a throat specialist
using a special telescope. Finally, one symptom that is classic for cancer
of the pharynx is pain on swallowing that radiates to the ear. Again,
although this is often caused by a benign condition such as acid reflux,
anyone with this symptom should an ENT doctor.
Cancers of the larynx are often picked up earlier than other throat cancers.
This is because even small cancers of the vocal cords will rather quickly
cause a person’s voice to become hoarse. Thus, although hoarseness
is a very common symptom that almost always comes from something benign,
anyone who has been hoarse for three weeks or more probably needs an exam
of their larynx. Unfortunately, there can also be cancers of the larynx
that do not involve the vocal cords. Like cancers of the pharynx, these
can grow quite large before being discovered, and most commonly present
as a difficulty in swallowing.