Have you ever heard of tracheal cancer? Maybe not, since it is quite uncommon as compared to other cancers and is known as the cancer of the windpipe in simpler terms. The malignant cancerous cells can affect the sensitive areas of your throat such as the vocal cords as well as tonsils. Although its existence is very rare, it does exist and it is therefore important to be aware of the causes, consequences, and treatments associated with the disease.
The causes of tracheal cancer
When the cells inside your throat begin to develop genetic mutations and start growing uncontrollably, tracheal cancer sets in. This is because the abnormally grown cells continue living even after the healthy cells in your throat have died. Gradually, these accumulate together to form a tumor.
Tracheal cancer is likely to occur in men and women aged between 40 to 60 years. However, like several other cancers, the exact cause of tracheal cancer has not been discovered to date. Nonetheless, doctors have identified certain habits that can lead to triggering off tumors in the windpipe. These include smoking as the most common factor, followed by excessive consumption of alcohol, vitamin A deficiency, asbestos exposure, and poor dental hygiene.
The dreadful consequences
Are you wondering what the consequences of tracheal cancer could be? Well, it’s pretty obvious that the tumors will cause a disturbance in the functioning of a previously healthy body. Most often, the first sign of an impending tracheal tumor is difficulty in breathing since the direct effect of this cancer is on the windpipe. Other symptoms include wheezing, hoarseness in voice, a persistent dry cough, frequent infections in the upper airway, a lump or sore in the neck that doesn’t seem to heal, and ear pain. If the situation is more complicated, patients are likely to experience discomfort in swallowing, hardened skin around the neck, and inability to speak clearly.
Although many of the symptoms of tracheal cancer are similar to those of simpler infections such as asthma and bronchitis, it is highly recommended to make an appointment with your doctor if the symptoms are persistent and do not seem to improve even after two to three weeks. Failing to do so can lead to fatal consequences.
Prevention and Treatments
In case cancerous cells are found in your throat, doctors will do some additional tests to identify the stage your tracheal cancer is in. Only then can the extent of the damage can be found out and treated accordingly. Listed below are the major procedures used to treat this disease.
If the cancer is in its early stages, doctors will opt for a surgery to remove the tumor along with a little bit of healthy tissue too. In case the malign disease succeeds in making its way to affect most of the windpipe, the whole area will then have to be removed. However, the cut-ends of the trachea will be rejoined at the end of the surgery so as to facilitate normal breathing. The patient might have to undergo physiotherapy to learn breathing exercises and bring the shortened trachea into a routine.
- Radiation Therapy
This treatment involves the use of high energy beams to kill off cancer cells. Radiation therapy is sometimes used in combination with surgery to eliminate any remaining cancerous cells left behind by the tumor so as to minimize the risk of the disease recurring. This treatment is suitable for early-stage tracheal cancer. The therapy can be given both internally and externally depending on the patient’s condition and requirement. Side effects include heartburn, nausea, skin irritation, and tiredness.
Probably the most painful of all, chemotherapy is usually applied to patients who exhibit alleviating symptoms of tracheal cancer. During this treatment, cancer cells are destroyed using certain chemicals and drugs like carboplatin and cisplatin. If a patient is suffering from large tumors or the tumors have spread to other parts of the body, doctors might suggest the use of chemotherapy as well as radiation. Moreover, as part of chemotherapy, the most appropriate target drug therapy to treat tracheal cancer has been identified as Cetuximab (Erbitux).
Tracheal cancer has a high chance of being cured if diagnosed in the early stages. It may become fatal once the cancerous cells spread to other parts of the body, especially beyond the head and neck. There are treatments that can also slow down the progression of the disease in addition to curing it all together, however it is essential to get yourself diagnosed as soon as you suspect the symptoms of tracheal cancer.