A new study in the UK has found that persistent sore throat, coupled with shortness of breath and problems swallowing, can be an early sign of larynx cancer. The research, led by scientists from the University of Exeter, suggested that general practitioners should include cancer in the considerations for patients who frequently come in for sore throat and unexplained neck lumps.

The study, titled “Recognising laryngeal cancer in primary care: a large case-control study using electronic records,” looked into the files of more than 600 GPs and studied 806 patients who had been diagnosed with laryngeal cancer. When the readings were compared against a control group of 3,559 patients, the researchers found a significant link between recurrent hoarseness and the dreaded disease.

In a report by the BBC, Professor William Hamilton, one of the authors, clarified that this does not refer to just any kind of sore throat, but those that are bad enough for patients to seek doctor’s advice. He also mentioned that the findings will make a relevant addition to the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guidelines for cancer investigation. Previously, this was not part of the considerations that GPs look into, particularly cases that involve breathing and swallowing problems.

According to NHS Choices, the main symptoms of larynx cancer include a recurrent sore throat or earache, hoarseness, difficulty and pain when swallowing, a long-lasting cough, a lump in the neck and, in certain cases, difficulty breathing. Other observed symptoms are unexplained weight loss, foul breath, extreme tiredness and wheezing noises when breathing. While its cause is idiopathic, one’s risk for having laryngeal cancer is compounded by an unhealthy diet, alcohol intake, smoking, exposure to toxic substances and even a family history of neck or head cancer. 

The study, which was published on the British Journal of General Practice, noted that more than 1,700 people in the UK are diagnosed with larynx cancer every year. GPs previously looked at cancer diagnoses based on a clinical consensus because no primary care studies had been made then. These new findings are a viable reason to update the present guidelines.