Presently, there are no known ways to prevent throat cancer. On the brighter side, most of the risk factors associated with this cancer type are related to our lifestyle habits. Therefore, it is possible to reduce the risk of this cancer, if not completely prevent it. The following are some of the important throat cancer prevention measures that can be helpful in reducing the risk of throat cancer:
Tobacco consumption increases the risk of throat cancer significantly. Refraining from tobacco consumption can reduce the risk of this cancer remarkably.
Cutting down on alcohol consumption and refraining from it completely can bring down one's risk of throat cancer significantly.
Having healthy food habits is one of the important throat cancer prevention measures. A diet rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants is helpful in reducing the risk of throat cancer. Including fresh fruits and vegetables in the diet helps keep various diseases, including cancer, at bay.
The internet is full of articles on “throat cancer prevention foods”, “throat cancer prevention diet”, etc. While some foods do reduce the risk of throat cancer, there is no single food or diet that can completely prevent it. Foods that have anti-inflammatory properties and anti-cancer properties and foods that are rich in antioxidants should be consumed regularly to reduce the risk of throat carcinoma.
A large percentage of oropharyngeal cancers are caused by chronic HPV infections. Protecting oneself from HPV infections through safe sex practices, opting for HPV vaccination, and receiving timely treatment when diagnosed with HPV infection can be helpful in reducing the risk of throat cancer.
After years of research and studies, scientists have identified multiple factors that contribute to the increased risk of throat cancer. Being identified with these risk factors does not necessarily guarantee a cancer diagnosis; however, it only increases the risk. The following are important risk factors for throat cancer:
Tobacco contains numerous harmful chemicals with cancer-causing properties. Prolonged exposure to these carcinogens through active and passive smoking can increase throat cancer risk.
Multiple studies have linked excessive alcohol consumption to an increased risk of throat cancer, and this makes it one of the important risk factors for throat cancer. Alcohol is especially harmful along with tobacco, as alcohol causes the cells in the mouth and throat to more readily absorb the harmful chemicals present in tobacco. These chemicals then damage the DNA of the throat cells and trigger tumor formation.
A diet low in fruits and vegetables can lead to inflammation in the body, which in turn can increase the risk of throat cancer. A lack of crucial vitamins like A, B, C, and E in the diet can negatively impact the body’s ability to repair the damage caused by harmful chemicals and keep itself healthy.
Asbestos exposure is another important risk factor for laryngeal cancer, a type of throat cancer. Asbestos is a form of mineral fiber, and it gets stuck in the larynx when inhaled. Asbestos causes irritation, which leads to inflammation and scarring. Over time, this can trigger cancer formation.
Studies have shown that chewing betel leaves and gutka increases oropharyngeal cancer risk. Carcinogens present in gutka, paan masala, etc., can damage the DNA structure and lead to oropharyngeal cancer.
Having certain inherited genetic disorders, like Fanconi anemia and dyskeratosis congenita, can increase one’s throat cancer risk.
Poor oral hygiene contributes to increased throat cancer risk. Many studies have found that poor oral hygiene aids the carcinogenic potential of tobacco and alcohol and thereby increases the risk of throat cancer.
Chronic HPV infection is an important risk factor for throat cancer. HPV infection is a sexually-transmitted disease, and the transmission of this virus occurs through oral sex. In most cases, this infection goes away in 1–2 years without any treatment. However, in some cases, these infections become chronic, cause mutations in the throat cells, and lead to cancer formation. HPV-associated throat cancers are often diagnosed in their early stages, and they can be treated successfully.
Epstein-Barr Virus (EBV), which belongs to the herpes family, can also cause mutations in the throat cells and lead to throat cancer. Not everybody with an EBV infection will be diagnosed with throat cancer, but they will carry an increased risk.
In rare cases, having GERD, or acid reflux, can lead to the formation of certain types of cancer, namely esophageal cancer, and stomach cancer. When patients experience regurgitation, the esophagus gets damaged and inflamed because of the low pH of stomach acid. If this is left untreated, it may eventually lead to cancer. However, there is very little information on the prevalence of throat cancer in individuals with GERD.
Being overweight or obese could also be a risk factor for throat cancer. Overweight and obese individuals are more prone to inflammation and hormonal imbalance, which are two common contributors to increased cancer risk.
Like all cancers, the risk of throat cancer also increases with age. Individuals over 50 are more likely to be diagnosed with throat cancer.
Exposure to hazardous chemicals, such as paint, sulfuric acid fumes, nickel, asbestos, etc., is found to increase throat cancer risk.