There are some distinguishing features between throat cancer symptoms and those of LPR, says Dr. Stacey Silvers, MD.
The first thing that Dr. Silvers says is that “Throat cancer should always be ruled out when symptoms include prolonged hoarseness. Cancers are growths and if on or adjacent to the vocal cords, the voice will be affected.”
Don’t rule out throat cancer if you’ve never smoked. “Patients can develop throat cancer without a history of smoking,” explains Dr. Silvers, of Madison ENT & Facial Plastic Surgery in NYC. She is board certified in otolaryngology.
Are there symptoms or symptom features of LPR that rarely, if at all, occur with throat cancer?
“LPR if left untreated can lead to throat and esophageal cancer,” says Dr. Silvers.
“The symptoms can be similar; the most important feature is symptoms that are prolonged.
“Problems will only occur if symptoms are ignored and left untreated. If you have symptoms that affect your throat, you can try avoiding late night eating, and cutting down on acidic foods. You can try some OTC reflux medication which is readily available.
“If these measures are not helping your symptoms, then it is best to have your throat examined and a proper diagnosis given.”
Are there symptoms that usually occur with the cancer that are hardly seen, if ever, with LPR?
“We don’t typically see weight loss with LPR,” says Dr. Silvers. “This is a feature we can see with cancer.
“Bloody cough can be seen with LPR rarely, but is another symptom more worrisome with a throat cancer.
“A physical exam is necessary. A higher risk in smokers and heavy drinkers. Bad refluxers are as just as high of a risk.”
Is there a tip-off type of symptom that strongly points to LPR and away from the cancer?
Dr. Silvers explains, “Symptoms that have been present for a short term very strongly point to LPR. If left alone for years untreated then you are at a high risk for developing throat or esophageal cancer.
“Smokers and heavy drinkers are at a much higher risk. But esophageal cancer is seen frequently with bad refluxers alone.”
Is there a tip-off symptom that suggests cancer and probably NOT LPR?
“Prolonged hoarseness, blood in the sputum and weight loss are very concerning symptoms associated with throat cancer. Especially in someone who has had LPR symptoms for a long time to begin with.
“We are more suspicious in patients who are smokers and heavy drinkers, but these habits, though putting you at higher risk, may not be part of your lifestyle, as years of acid reflux alone can put you at high risk.”
Untreated acid reflux, even if it affects only the throat as far as feeling symptoms like those of LPR, can cause changes in the cells of the esophagus: a condition called Barrett’s esophagus.
This condition raises the risk of esophageal cancer and necessitates yearly screenings.
Dr. Silvers says, “Acid reflux is the number one cause of esophageal cancer,” and this disease is on the increase in the U.S. ”