Determining the Type of Throat Cancer

Almost all throat cancers are squamous cell carcinomas. These are tumours that start from cancer cells on the surface lining of the throat. There are several different types and classifications of squamous cell carcinomas that you can talk to your doctor about.

 Squamous cell carcinoma: These are by far the most common throat cancers. They arise from cells lining the throat.

Squamous cell cancers of the throat are typically given a grade by a pathologist after looking at the cells under a microscope. Grade means that the tumour falls on a scale from well differentiated (Grade I) to poorly differentiated (Grade IV). It is generally felt that the prognosis for a more well-differentiated cancer is more favourable.

More rarely, other cancers can be found in the throat as well. Some of them include:

  • Salivary gland cancers:There are minor salivary glands located under the lining of the throat. Therefore, cancers that we typically see in salivary glands can arise in this region. They include diagnoses such as mucoepidermoid carcinomas, adenocarcinomas and adenoid cystic carcinomas, to name a few. See Salivary Gland Cancer for more information.
  • Lymphoma:The throat is lined with lymphoid cells. Some major sites of lymphoid tissue include the adenoids in the nasopharynx and palatine tonsils and lingual tonsils in the oropharynx. Therefore, lymphoma might appear as a lump in the throat area.
  • Mucosal melanoma:These cancers come from skin cells that give skin its colour. In rare cases, melanoma can be found in the lining of the mouth, nose and/or throat.

Other rare cancers include:

  • Adenocarcinomas of the esophagus
  • Sarcomas such as chondsarcoma, liposarcoma and synovial sarcoma
  • Malignant fibrous histiocytoma
  • Peripheral Neuroectodermal Tumour (PNET)
  • Cancer spread from another site