Constant sore throat could be early warning sign of cancer, experts warn

Combine it with an earache, difficulty swallowing or shortness of breath and you could be at twice the risk of laryngeal cancer, new findings show.

The larynx is the medical name for the voice box – and the disease is a form of throat cancer.

GPs are currently only required to consider laryngeal cancer if someone has persistent hoarseness or an unexplained neck lump.

But now, findings from the University of Exeter suggest a sore throat, earache and difficulty swallowing could increase a person's risk more.

Every year, more than 1,700 people are diagnosed with laryngeal cancer – 80 per cent of whom are male.

The larynx is part of the throat found at the entrance of the windpipe (trachea). It plays an important role in helping you breathe and speak.

When Clare Davis-Eaton got a sore throat days before Christmas she put it down to a nasty bug.

The 44-year-old was prone to throat infections so it didn't cross her mind that it could be anything to worry about.

It was only after she noticed a pea-sized lump in her throat that she started to panic.

It turned out that she was living with throat cancer which had started off as mouth cancer and spread.

“I just heard the words feeding tube and chemotherapy and radiotherapy and I just thought ‘woah, I’m only 41 years old, this doesn’t happen to me’," she previously told The Sun.

“The question for me was ‘when – when did I catch this’, but no one can ever pinpoint the day you get cancer.

“I didn’t know how I was going to tell my kids, am I going to see my kids graduate, am I going to see my kids become parents?"

Clare lost part of her sense of taste and still suffers from a dry mouth and difficulty swallowing, years after her treatment.

“I can’t swallow meat anymore, I find the texture extremely difficult," she said.

Symptoms of laryngeal cancer

Laryngeal cancer is cancer of the voice box. Throat cancer is a general term for cancer of anything within the throat but GPs don't tend to use it as it refers to more than one disease.

Symptoms of this type of cancer can include:

  • persistent sore throat
  • hoarseness or change in your throat
  • difficulty in swallowing
  • weight loss
  • cough or shortness of breath
  • lump in your throat
  • bad smelling breath
  • ear ache

“I can’t eat anything spicy like curries, chillies, jalapenos which were my favourite, I also can’t do apples or pears unless they are cooked.

“I can’t eat anything too dry because I have no saliva glands to help it go down.

“You have to flavour stuff because everything tastes really bland but I can’t over flavour it because it burns my mouth.”
As with a lot of cancers, we don't exactly know what causes it, but you can definitely up your risk by smoking, regularly heavy boozing and having an unhealthy diet.

Fortunately, it's one cancer that is usually pretty treatable if caught at an early stage.

According to the NHS, around 70 out of 100 people will live at least five years after diagnosis, with 60 out of every 100 people set to live for at least ten years.

Professor Willie Hamilton, of the University of Exeter Medical School, was one of the authors of the report.

He said: "This research matters – when NICE guidance for cancer investigation was published there was no evidence from GP practices to guide this – nor to inform GPs.

"Crucially, hoarseness serious enough to be reported to GPs does warrant investigation. Furthermore, our research has shown the potential severity of some symptom combinations previously thought to be low-risk. "

Lead author Dr Elizabeth Shephard, of the University of Exeter Medical School, said: "The UK still lags well behind the rest of Europe on cancer survival rate – although our research is part of a body of work that is leading to significant improvements.

"There's still some way to go and the results of this study really highlight the need to improve the current recommendations for all of the head and neck cancers – which are either incomplete or absent."

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