If You Notice This When Talking, Get a Cancer Screening, Experts Say

Knowing this symptom could help you reach diagnosis "at a very early stage."

When it comes to cancer, a timely diagnosis is of the utmost importance. However, in many cancer cases, there are few if any early symptoms to tip the patient off to a problem. Knowing what to look for—however subtle—could literally save your life. In particular, experts say that in the event of one kind of cancer, there's a surprising symptom to look out for that may help a doctor reach a diagnosis "at a very early stage"—and it happens when you talk. Read on to find out what to look out for, and how to minimize your risk.

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If you notice hoarseness in your voice, get a cancer screening.

Man with sore throat

When you're feeling under the weather, it's somewhat common to develop hoarse voice. However, experts warn that if the symptom persists, it's important to work with your medical provider to identify the underlying cause—especially since in some cases, this change of voice can point to cancer.

"Laryngeal cancers that form on the vocal cords (glottis) often cause hoarseness or a change in the voice. This might lead to them being found at a very early stage," explains the American Cancer Society (ACS). Their experts add that if the hoarseness in your voice doesn't improve after two weeks, you should contact your doctor immediately.

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Related cancers may also lead to a hoarse voice.

Young woman have problem with sore throat or thyroid gland.

Though cancer that begins in the vocal cords is known to lead to vocal changes more immediately, cancer that begins in the surrounding areas of the body may lead to the same symptom—only later, once they have spread to the vocal cords. "These cancers are sometimes not found until they have spread to the lymph nodes and you notice a growing mass in your neck," explains ACS. "Cancers that start in the area of the larynx above the vocal cords (supraglottis), the area below the vocal cords (subglottis), or the hypopharynx do not usually cause voice changes, and are therefore more often found at later stages," they add.

Look out for these other symptoms of laryngeal and hypopharyngeal cancers.

Senior white man holding his ear in pain

In addition to having a persistently hoarse voice, ACS says those with laryngeal and hypopharyngeal cancers may experience additional symptoms. These often include a sore throat that doesn't go away, pain or difficulty when swallowing, ear pain, trouble breathing, unintended weight loss, or having a lump or mass in the neck.

"Many of these symptoms are more likely to be caused by conditions other than laryngeal or hypopharyngeal cancer," says ACS. "Still, if you have any of these symptoms, it is very important to have them checked by a doctor so that the cause can be found and treated, if needed," their experts add.

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Most cases of head and neck cancer are linked to unhealthy habits.

Man not drinking alcohol

Most cases of head and neck cancer—including laryngeal and hypopharyngeal cancers—are categorized as squamous cell carcinoma, explains the Cleveland Clinic. Their experts note that three out of four cases of head and neck cancer are believed to be caused by excessive consumption of alcohol, or tobacco use—both of which damage cells in the lining of the throat and mouth. The longer and more frequently you consume these known carcinogens, the greater your risk of developing cancer of the head and neck, the health authority says.

If you do suspect a problem, your medical provider may give you a screening that includes an endoscopy, biopsy, or imaging tests. Of course, the sooner you consult with a doctor, the better your chances of a good prognosis. "Earlier disease responds better to treatment," explains the Cleveland Clinic on its site. "A cure is most likely for small tumors with no cancer spread. For more advanced cases, newer cancer drugs and radiation therapies may offer promising treatment potential," they add.

Speak with your doctor now about the full range of possible causes for any vocal changes you may experience.

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Lauren Gray
Lauren Gray is a New York-based writer, editor, and consultant. Read more
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