Throat cancer occurs when cells in your throat develop genetic mutations. These mutations cause cells to grow uncontrollably and continue living after healthy cells would normally die. The accumulating cells can form a tumor in your throat.

It's not clear what causes the mutation that causes throat cancer. But doctors have identified factors that may increase your risk.

Types of throat cancer

Throat cancer is a general term that applies to cancer that develops in the throat (pharyngeal cancer) or in the voice box (laryngeal cancer). The throat and the voice box are closely connected, with the voice box located just below the throat.

Though most throat cancers involve the same types of cells, specific terms are used to differentiate the part of the throat where cancer originated.

  • Nasopharyngeal cancer begins in the nasopharynx — the part of your throat just behind your nose.
  • Oropharyngeal cancer begins in the oropharynx — the part of your throat right behind your mouth that includes your tonsils.
  • Hypopharyngeal cancer (laryngopharyngeal cancer) begins in the hypopharynx (laryngopharynx) — the lower part of your throat, just above your esophagus and windpipe.
  • Glottic cancer begins in the vocal cords.
  • Supraglottic cancer begins in the upper portion of the larynx and includes cancer that affects the epiglottis, which is a piece of cartilage that blocks food from going into your windpipe.
  • Subglottic cancer begins in the lower portion of your voice box, below your vocal cords.
Sep. 13, 2012