Tobacco and Throat Cancer

Smoking tobacco products causes throat cancer, also known as laryngeal cancer.Footnote 1Footnote 2

Key facts about tobacco use and throat cancer

  • If someone smokes, their risk of throat cancer increases with the duration and the amount of cigarettes smoked.Footnote 3Footnote 4Footnote 5 This risk is multiplied if they also drink alcohol.Footnote 6Footnote 7
  • Men are about five times more likely to develop throat cancer than women.Footnote 8
  • In 2019, it was estimated there would be 1,150 new cases of throat cancer in Canada (excluding Qu├ębec), and 400 throat cancer deaths, with males having four times more throat cancer deaths than females.Footnote 9
  • In Canada (excluding Quebec), 38% of people diagnosed with throat cancer are predicted to die within five years, according to 2015-2017 data.Footnote 9

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What is throat cancer?

Throat or laryngeal cancer, is the uncontrolled growth of cells in the larynx. Throat cancer falls under the category of head and neck cancers. The main risk factor is tobacco use.Footnote 8Footnote 10

Most throat cancers start in the area of the larynx where the vocal cords are located.Footnote 11 The larynx is a small tube that contains the vocal cords and connects the back of the throat to the windpipe (trachea). The larynx plays an important role in breathing, swallowing, and talking.

Early symptoms of throat cancer can include vocal hoarseness and difficulty breathing and swallowing.Footnote 12

Common treatment for laryngeal cancer involves surgery, sometimes alongside radiation and chemotherapy. Depending on the extent of cancer, part of or the entire larynx may be removed. Rehabilitation can involve creating a hole in the throat to allow breathing and speaking.Footnote 13

How does tobacco use increase the risk of throat cancer?

Some of the chemicals contained in tobacco smoke are carcinogenic, meaning they have the potential to cause cancer in the throat when inhaled.Footnote 5Footnote 14Footnote 15

Smoking increases the risk of throat cancer by exposing the larynx to these carcinogenic chemicals.Footnote 1

How does quitting reduce the risk of throat cancer?

When someone quits smoking, their risk of throat cancer starts to decrease. Five to nine years after quitting, their risk of throat cancer is half that of someone who smokes.Footnote 15

Ten to fifteen years after quitting, the risk is reduced by 60% and continues to decrease to 80% after 20 or more years of cessation.Footnote 15Footnote 16Footnote 17

If someone who smokes has throat cancer, quitting can still benefit them. Quitting smoking can improve recovery for cancer patients.Footnote 18

Continuing to smoke after a cancer diagnosis can lower the chances of survival and increase the risk for other cancers caused by smoking, such as lung cancer.Footnote 18

Health benefits of quitting tobacco use at any age

Quitting tobacco use reduces the risk of premature death, improves health, and enhances quality of life.Footnote 15 Quitting at any age is beneficial to one's health.Footnote 15 Even people who have smoked or used tobacco heavily for many years benefit from it.Footnote 1Footnote 15 Quitting is the most important thing someone who smokes can do to improve your health.

Read more about the benefits of quitting smoking.

For help to quit

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Footnotes

Footnote 1

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The Health Consequences of Smoking. A Report of the Surgeon General. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health; 2004.

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Footnote 2

International Agency for Research on Cancer. IARC Monographs on the evaluation of carcinogenic risks to humans. Volume 83: Tobacco smoke and involuntary smoking. Lyon, France. 2004.

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Footnote 3

Lubin JH. Total Exposure and exposure rate effects for alcohol and smoking and risk of head and neck cancer: a pooled analysis of case-control studies. American Journal of Epidemiology. 2009;170(8):937-47. doi: 10.1093/aje/kwp222.

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Footnote 4

Ansary-Moghaddam A, Huxley RR, Lam TH, Woodward M. Risk of upper aerodigestive tract cancer associated with smoking with and without concurrent alcohol consumption. Mount Sinai Journal of Medicine. 2009; 76: 392-403. doi: 10.1002/msj.20125.

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Footnote 5

International Agency for Research on Cancer. World Health Organization. IARC Monographs on the Evaluation of Carcinogens Risks to Humans: Tobacco Smoke and Involuntary Smoking. Vol. 83. Lyon (France): International Agency for Research on Cancer; 2004. https://publications.iarc.fr/Book-And-Report-Series/Iarc-Monographs-On-The-Identification-Of-Carcinogenic-Hazards-To-Humans/Tobacco-Smoke-And-Involuntary-Smoking-2004

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Footnote 6

Talamini R, Bosetti C, La Vecchia C, Dal Maso L, Levi F, Bidoli E, Negri E, et al. Combined effect of tobacco and alcohol on laryngeal cancer risk: a case-control study. Cancer Causes & Control. 2002;13(10):957-64. doi: 10.1023/a:1021944123914.

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Footnote 7

Menvielle G, Luce D, Goldberg P, Bugel I, Leclerc A. Smoking, alcohol drinking and cancer risk for various sites of the larynx and hypopharynx. A case-control study in France. European Journal of Cancer Prevention 2004;13(3):165-72. doi: 10.1097/01.cej.0000130017.93310.76.

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Footnote 8

American Society of Clinical Oncology. Laryngeal and hypopharyngeal cancer: risk factors and prevention. http://www.cancer.net/cancer-types/laryngeal-and-hypopharyngeal-cancer/risk-factors-and-prevention

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Footnote 9

Canadian Cancer Statistics Advisory Committee. Canadian Cancer Statistics 2019. Toronto, ON: Canadian Cancer Society; 2019. cancer.ca/Canadian-Cancer-Statistics-2019-EN

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Footnote 10

American Society of Clinical Oncology. Laryngeal and hypopharyngeal cancer: introduction. American Society of Clinical Oncology; 2019. https://www.cancer.net/cancer-types/laryngeal-and-hypopharyngeal-cancer/introduction

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Footnote 11

American Cancer Society. What are laryngeal and hypopharyngeal cancers? American Cancer Society; 2021. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/laryngeal-and-hypopharyngeal-cancer/about/what-is-laryngealand-hypopharyngeal.html

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Footnote 12

American Cancer Society. Signs and symptoms of laryngeal and hypopharyngeal cancers. American Cancer Society; 2021. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/laryngeal-and-hypopharyngeal-cancer/detection-diagnosis-staging/signs-symptoms.html

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Footnote 13

American Cancer Society. Surgery for laryngeal and hypopharyngeal cancers. American Cancer Society;2021. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/laryngeal-and-hypopharyngeal-cancer/treating/surgery.html

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Footnote 14

Rodgman A, Perfetti TA. The chemical components of tobacco and tobacco smoke. (2009). CRC press, Florida, USA. ISBN 978-1-4200-7883-1.

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Footnote 15

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Smoking Cessation: A Report of the Surgeon General. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health; 2020.

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Footnote 16

International Agency for Research on Cancer. IARC Handbooks of Cancer Prevention, Tobacco Control, Vol. 11: Reversal of Risk After Quitting Smoking. Lyon (France); 2007.

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Footnote 17

Bosetti C, Garavello W, Gallus S, La Vecchia C. Effects of smoking cessation on the risk of laryngeal cancer: An overview of published studies. Oral Oncology. 2006;42:866-872. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.oraloncology.2006.02.008

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Footnote 18

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The Health Consequences of Smoking: 50 Years of Progress. A Report of the Surgeon General. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health; 2014.

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