Smoking and Throat Cancer

Smoking causes throat cancer, also known as laryngeal cancer.Footnote1,Footnote2 Read more about throat cancer...


The risk of throat cancer increases with the length of time and the amount a person smokes.Footnote3,Footnote4,Footnote5 This risk is further multiplied among smokers who also drink alcohol.Footnote6,Footnote7,Footnote8

Thirty-six percent (36%) of people diagnosed with throat cancer are expected to die within 5 years after diagnosis.Footnote9 There were more than 415 deaths from throat cancer in Canada in 2007, with four times more males than females dying of this cancer.Footnote10

Research has shown that in 2002, about 60% of throat cancer deaths in Canada were due to smoking.Footnote11

These health warning messages for cigarettes and little cigars address throat cancer:

Man with a hole in his throat due to cancer of the larynx
Man with a hole in his throat due to cancer of the larynx

What is throat cancer?

Throat cancer, also known as laryngeal cancer, is the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells in the larynx, leading to the formation of a tumour.

Most throat cancers start in the area of the larynx where the vocal cords are located. The larynx is a small tube that contains the vocal cords and connects the back of the throat to the trachea, which leads to the lungs. The larynx plays an important role in breathing, swallowing and talking.

Early symptoms of throat cancer can include hoarseness of voice as well as difficulty speaking, breathing and eating.

Treatment for laryngeal cancer can involve radiation, chemotherapy and in some cases surgery. Surgery is required when the cancer has destroyed all or part of the vocal cords and the voice box needs to be removed. Rehabilitation can involve the placement of a hole in the throat, which allows the passage of air for breathing and speaking.

How does smoking increase the risk of throat cancer?

Some of the chemicals contained in tobacco smoke cause, initiate or promote cancer.Footnote12,Footnote13 When inhaled, these chemicals cause genetic changes in cells of the throat, which can lead to the development of throat cancer.

Smoking increases the risk of throat cancer by exposing the larynx to these carcinogenic chemicals during inhalation.

The benefits of quitting

When people stop smoking, the risk of throat cancer starts to decrease. Ten to fifteen years after quitting, the risk is reduced by 60% to 70%, and continues to decrease after 20 or more years of not smoking.Footnote14,Footnote15,Footnote16

Quitting is more effective than other measures to avoid the development of throat cancer and other smoking-related diseases.

Need help to quit? Call the pan-Canadian quitline toll-free at 1-866-366-3667.

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