What Is Throat Cancer?

Throat cancer refers to cancerous tumors that develop in your throat (pharynx), voice box (larynx) or tonsils. Your throat is a 5-inch-long muscular tube that begins behind your nose and ends in your neck. Your voice box sits just below your throat. It’s made of cartilage and contains the vocal cords, which vibrate to make sound when you talk. Tonsil cancer affects the tonsils, which are located in the back of your throat. Throat cancer can also affect the piece of cartilage (epiglottis) that acts as a lid for your windpipe. Most throat cancers are squamous cell carcinomas — cancer that begins in thin, flat cells that look like fish scales.

Parts of the Throat

Throat cancer can occur in any region of the throat:

  • Nasopharynx. Nasopharyngeal carcinomas, which are rare in the United States, begin in the epithelial cells — the cells lining the internal and external surfaces of your body.
  • Oropharynx. Extending from the back of your mouth to your throat is the oropharynx. The oropharynx includes all of your soft palate, the tonsil region, and the farthest reaches of your tongue, extending down toward your voice box. Cancers of the oropharynx usually begin in the tonsil, soft palate or tongue base. Malignant tumors usually begin in the mucous membrane–like lining and is called squamous cell carcinoma. However, these tumors can also arise in the white blood cells (lymphoma) or glandular cells (adenocarcinoma).
  • Hypopharynx. The hypopharynx is located near the entrance to your esophagus and voice box. Hypopharynx cancers are most likely squamous cell cancer. Because of their close proximity to the larynx (voicebox), the treatment for hypopharyngeal and laryngeal cancers is virtually identical.

Other cancers occurring in the nasopharynx include lymphoma (cancer of the immune cells) and adenocarcinoma (cancer of the minor salivary glands).

We can help

Mount Sinai throat cancer specialists function as part of The Tisch Cancer Institute — a multi-disciplinary research and clinical care institution whose membership encompasses all Mount Sinai physicians and researchers whose work involves cancer. Call us today to make an appointment. We care, and we can make a difference.


Contact Us

Ear, Nose and Throat/Head and Neck Services
5 East 98th Street
New York, NY 10029
Tel: 212-241-9410