Easing Treatment for Throat Cancer

There’s new hope for throat cancer patients. Several new treatments are making the condition easier to bear and easier to cure. This research will make the lives of patients easier.

Cancer of the throat or larynx is common in smokers, frequent or heavy drinkers, and men over 50. In the United States, around one in 12,000 people is diagnosed with throat cancer every year. Symptoms include hoarseness, difficulty swallowing, unexpected weight loss, and ear pain.

Laryngeal cancer respond very well to treatment—a 90 percent percent success rate if caught early. However, the treatments can be invasive, unpleasant, and drastic. Surgery is not infrequently performed even if the disease is caught early, and this may involve removal of all or part of the larynx. Radiation therapy is also a common treatment, alone or in combination with chemotherapy.

Fortunately, the discomfort and unpleasantness of radiation therapy can be diminished by an artificial salivary gland being developed at a clinic in Delaware. Radiation therapy patients can often have difficulty swallowing as the treatment dries up their saliva and damages the cells that produce it. This can make eating and drinking next to impossible, worsening the weight loss chemotherapy often causes.

The clinic researchers are working on a project to find a way repair the saliva-producing cells. The most promising technique would remove these cells, encourage them to produce saliva, then put them in a growth medium. Thus augmented, the cells are reimplanted when radiation therapy is finished. That would make it possible for patients to swallow again.

Drug therapy is also sometimes used for throat cancer. The primary current medication damages tumors but can also affect healthy cells. Scientists in Northern Ireland may have found a way to create more narrowly targeted drugs that disrupt the signals tumor cells use to attack healthy tissue.

One of the most effective ways to reduce your throat cancer risk is to quit smoking. Talk to your doctor about ways you can kick the habit for good.

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