Many different cancers can cause you to have a swollen feeling or lumpy sensation in the throat, even if you’ve never smoked or drank.

But there’s more to this than you’re probably thinking.

“The vast majority of people who have a feeling of something swollen or stuck in their throat do not actually have something in their throat,” explains Gene Liu, MD, MMM, and Chief, Division of Otolaryngology, Cedars-Sinai Medical Group.

“Reflux, allergies, dehydration, stress, post-nasal drip and infection are just some of the many issues that can lead to this symptom,” says Dr. Liu.

“In rare cases, however, the sensation of a lump in the throat might actually be a lump in the throat.

“Although most lumps are benign, sometimes they are not. In the past, cancers in the throat were mostly associated with smoking.”

Cancers that May Cause a Swollen Feeling in the Throat

“Nowadays, many throat cancers are associated with human papilloma virus in people who have never smoked,” says Dr. Liu.

“Squamous cell carcinoma (SCCA), whether associated with smoking, HPV or any other risk factor, is still the most common type of head and neck cancer.”

That will come as a surprise to those who believe that only sun-exposed areas of the skin can ever develop squamous cell carcinoma. But this cancer, indeed, can grow in dark internal places.

“Tumors in the salivary (spit) glands can also present with the sensation in the throat.

“Lymphomas can also cause swelling of the tonsillar tissue or lymph nodes as well.

“Lastly, there are many other rare types of cancer that can show up in the throat.”

Now just because so many cancers can affect the way the patient’s throat feels or cause a swollen sensation, does not mean that a tumor would be a doctor’s first thought if a patient said, “I have this swollen feeling in my throat lately.”

Dr. Liu says, “In general, if you have a feeling of a swelling or lump in the throat that is present for more than a few weeks, you should see a doctor.”

Dr. Liu’s clinical areas of focus cover a broad range including surgery of the head and neck, sinuses and thyroid, and disorders of the ears, salivary glands and vocal cords.
Lorra Garrick has been covering medical, fitness and cybersecurity topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer.  


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