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Throat cancer is a type of head and neck cancer that occurs in the throat or surrounding area. It is usually a squamous cell carcinoma because it typically starts in the squamous cells lining the throat.
Throat cancer refers to cancerous tumors that develop in the throat or pharynx, the voice box or larynx, or the tonsils. Your throat is a muscular tube that begins behind your nose and ends in your neck. The throat and the voice box are closely connected—your voice box is located just below your throat.
Throat cancer can also affect the piece of cartilage called the epiglottis that acts as a lid for your windpipe. Tonsil cancer, another type of throat cancer, affects the tonsils, which are located on the back of the throat.
We still don’t know the exact cause, but throat cancer develops when cells from the parts of the throat develop mutations in their DNA and grow out of control. These abnormal cancer cells can form a tumor and may spread to other areas of the head and neck, or other parts of the body.
Though most throat cancers involve squamous cells, specific terms are used to differentiate the part of the throat where cancer originated:
Nasopharyngeal cancer. The nasopharynx is the part of your throat just behind your nose.
Oropharyngeal cancer. The oropharynx is the part of your throat right behind your mouth that includes your tonsils.
Hypopharyngeal cancer or laryngopharyngeal cancer. The hypopharynx or laryngopharynx is the lower part of your throat, just above your esophagus and windpipe.
Glottic cancer. The vocal cords.
Supraglottic cancer. The upper portion of the larynx. This includes cancer that affects the epiglottis.
Subglottic cancer. The lower portion of your voice box, below your vocal cords.