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Sure Signs You May Have Cancer Like Val Kilmer

Here are five signs of throat cancer, according to doctors.
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

Throat cancer is a head and neck cancer most commonly caused by smoking, drinking alcohol, and viral infections such as HPV (human papillomavirus). Actor Val Kilmer revealed he was diagnosed with throat cancer in 2017, and his subsequent memoir and documentary has shed more light on the disease. "There are a wide variety of ways to treat throat cancer, depending on the location and stage," says Yale Medicine's Heather Osborn, MD, a cancer surgeon who specializes in head and neck cancer. "Working with a multidisciplinary team of experts, like the ones at Yale Medicine, ensures that all treatment options are considered to make sure that you have the best possible treatment plan for you." Here are five signs of throat cancer, according to experts. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


A Lump


Experts say a persistent lump in the neck could be a sign of throat cancer, and Kilmer, 62, says it was one of the first signs for him. The actor ended up undergoing a tracheostomy to help with breathing. "I can't speak without plugging this hole," Kilmer says. "You have to make the choice to breathe or to eat. It's an obstacle that is very present with whoever sees me."


Difficulty Swallowing

portrait of woman having sore throat problem

Difficulty swallowing should never be ignored, doctors say. "Cancers of the mouth, throat or esophagus can cause this symptom," advises the Cleveland Clinic.


Sore Throat

Woman experiencing first Covid-19 symptoms throat pain breathing problems on sofa

"The most common early warning sign of throat cancer is a persistent sore throat," warns Cancer treatment Centers of America. "If you have a sore throat that lasts for more than two weeks, the American Cancer Society recommends you see a doctor immediately."


Hoarseness and Voice Changes

woman suffering from pain in throat, touching her neck, empty space.

Hoarseness and voice changes could be a sign of laryngeal cancer, doctors say. "Small growths of the vocal cords may produce hoarseness or coughing, making glottic cancer more likely to be diagnosed early," says Johns Hopkins Medicine.

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HPV-Related Throat Cancer

woman consulting with her female doctor

Experts say the number one risk in contracting HPV-related throat cancer is multiple oral sex partners (for both men and women). Luckily, HPV-related cancer responds well to treatment if diagnosed early enough. "I don't think anyone in our field or any epidemiologist would argue the link between HPV and throat cancer at this point," says head and neck surgeon Brandon Prendes, MD. "It's a strong link."

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When Should I See a Doctor?

doctors appointment

If you are experiencing any of the symptoms described, don't hesitate to see your healthcare provider to rule out any health risks or issues. 

Ferozan Mast
Ferozan Mast is a science, health and wellness writer with a passion for making science and research-backed information accessible to a general audience. Read more about Ferozan
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