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Throat cancer: How is it diagnosed?

Throat cancer: How is it diagnosed?

A relatively rare malignancy, throat cancer reportedly affects around 1.1 percent of U.S. adults, which translates to around 11 cases for every 100,000 people, the U.S. National Cancer Institute reported. This article will take a closer look at throat cancer, examining a common procedure used as part of the diagnostic process – laryngoscopy. During this procedure, reusable tools known as laryngoscopes are often used by medical professionals. These tools, however, pose a notable risk of cross-contamination to patients. This article will conclude with an explication of why single-use medical tools are the safest option when it comes to performing laryngoscopies.

A closer look at throat cancer
Throat cancer is an umbrella term that typically refers to any form of malignancy that forms in one of two areas – the larynx and the pharynx, MD Anderson Cancer Center detailed. The larynx is the area of the throat that facilitates speech and contains the vocal chords. It is colloquially named the "voice box." The pharynx, on the other hand, is the tube that connects the nose with the esophagus. The source explained how the most common form of throat cancer to form in both these areas is the squamous cell kind. As detailed by Healthline, a rarer form of cancer that can form in the larynx is an adenocarcinoma. This type of the disease develops in the cells that compose the glands. 

What are major risk factors?
There are a number of risk factors for throat cancer. As detailed by the Mayo Clinic, lifestyle factors such as heavy long-term alcohol consumption and smoking cigarettes can increase one's risk of developing the disease. Healthline explained that a ubiquitous sexually transmitted infection, the human papillomavirus (HPV), is also a potential factor in the development of throat cancer. Other risk factors include poor diets low in essential vitamins and minerals, notably vitamin A, as well as previous interactions with asbestos. Problems with dental health may also play a role. 

"The human papillomavirus (HPV), is also a potential factor in the development of throat cancer."

What are the common signs and symptoms?
Medical professionals may suspect throat cancer when patients complain of the following symptoms, the Mayo Clinic explained: A persistent sore throat, problems speaking or a change in voice sound, an ongoing cough, problems with swallowing, a lump in the throat, unexplained weight loss and a pain in the ear area. The symptoms described are not exclusive to throat cancer, however. They can be indicative of any number of conditions. Patients are advised to consult with their physicians if they experience any of the aforementioned symptoms.

How is throat cancer diagnosed?
If a patient's symptoms are indicative of throat cancer a physician will order a procedure known as a laryngoscopy, Healthline stated. A laryngoscopy is a procedure wherein an ear, nose and throat doctor examines a patient's larynx and pharynx using a special tool known as a laryngoscope. The instrument is lighted and is inserted into a patient's throat during the procedure, the source detailed. A laryngoscopy can be performed in one of two ways: Indirectly or directly. The indirect method uses a local anesthetic to numb the area, while the direct method involves full sedation. 

As detailed by Britain's National Health Service, it is common for physicians to collect areas of tissue from the throat during a laryngoscopy, so that it can then be sent away for a biopsy. The tissue is collected using special instruments. The biopsy is used to determine if cells are cancerous or not. If the test indicates cancer a formal diagnosis is made and a treatment plan developed.

Pain is a common symptom of throat cancer.Pain is a common symptom of throat cancer.

Understanding the risk of cross-contamination
It is still common practice in many medical facilities across the U.S. for health care providers to use reusable medical devices, including laryngoscopes. These tools are used on a patient before undergoing a process of sterilization. Once cleaned, the devices are reused on a new patient, and the process is repeated indefinitely. This is problematic because there a number of studies that have indicated that the disinfection process used to sterilize tools is actually rather ineffective at removing all traces of human DNA and killing certain viruses, including certain strains of HPV. 

For example, a literature review from the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists reported that many studies have found evidence that traces of blood and saliva can linger on laryngoscopes, even after they have gone through a standardized disinfection process. Consequently, patients find themselves at a small yet still notable risk of contracting chronic conditions, such as hepatitis and HIV. The only manageable solution to this problem, therefore, is for health care facilities to embrace single use medical devices, including single use laryngoscopes. These devices are as they sound – they are used once only, on one patient, before being safely disposed of. This eliminates the risk of any cross-contamination.

Consider OBP Medical
OBP Medical provides a range of single-use devices, easily built to save health care providers time and money. And, most importantly, OBP Medical reusable tools, including the SURE SCOPE single-use laryngoscope, safeguard patients against the risk of cross-contamination. The devices come with a built-in safe LED light source that provides peak light for in excess of 30 minutes. The devices can then be safely disposed of, as the LED light source produces no damaging heat whatsoever. To learn more about the range of tools available from OBP Medical and to request a free sample of the SURE SCOPE single-use laryngoscope, click here.