What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Throat Cancer?

  • Throat cancer symptoms vary depending on the location of the cancer, but may include pain in the throat or ears, trouble breathing or swallowing, or changes in the voice.
  • There are different types of throat cancer, and the different types may present with different or similar symptoms.

Throat cancer is a type of head and neck cancer that may affect the larynx, the area of the throat used for speaking; the nasopharynx, the area of the throat behind the nose; or the oropharynx, the middle part of the throat.

If you experience any of the symptoms described below, contact your doctor, who may conduct a physical examination of the head, neck, and throat, or take scans or biopsies to check for signs of throat cancer.

Symptoms of throat cancer

  • A persistent sore throat or cough
  • A lump in the neck or throat or nose
  • Changes in the voice
  • Ear pain
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Nosebleeds
  • Pain or ringing in the ears
  • Trouble breathing or speaking
  • Headaches
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Dull pain behind the breastbone

Types of throat cancer

Laryngeal cancer: The larynx is located between the base of the tongue and the trachea, and helps with breathing, swallowing, and talking. Symptoms may include:

Nasopharyngeal cancer: The nasopharynx is the upper part of the throat located behind the nose. The nostrils lead to the nasopharynx, and there are openings on each side of the nasopharynx that lead to the ears.

Oropharyngeal cancer: The oropharynx is the middle part of the throat that includes the soft palate, the side and back walls of the throat, the tonsils, and the base of the tongue. Risk factors for oropharyngeal cancer include heavy alcohol use, smoking or chewing tobacco, and being infected with human papillomavirus (HPV).

Learn more about risk factors, symptoms, and treatment for throat cancer through Dana-Farber’s Head and Neck Oncology Program.