Q. What is the risk of throat cancer if I have quit smoking three months earlier?

Answered by
Dr. Vinay. S. Bhat
and medically reviewed by iCliniq medical review team.
This is a premium question & answer published on Oct 11, 2017

Hi doctor,

I am a 39 year old female. I used to smoke one pack a day for 19 years, but quit cigarettes three months ago. 10 days ago, I had ear and throat pain on the left side. My lymph node was swollen only on the left side. I went to my GP who prescribed me Amoxicillin 1000 mg two times per day for 10 days, and ear drops because my ear was red. Also, I have a red line on my throat (please see the picture). However, now, 10 days later, I still have the ear and throat pain as well as the lymph node pain, and this red line does not go away. I have no bleeding from my throat. Can you please tell me what this could be? Since I was a smoker, what is the risk of throat cancer? Also, I want to mention that my tonsils were removed 30 years ago.



Welcome to

Looking at the photo you have sent (attachment removed to protect patient identity), it is very clear that you do not have any lesions in the throat which cause a suspicion of malignancy (cancer) to arise.

The reddish line you are looking at is nothing but the dilation of blood vessels which is clinically known as congestion and it is always seen in a throat infection.

You seem to have suffered from acute pharyngitis which is a common type of throat infection wherein the symptoms would be throat pain, referred ear pain and sometimes reactive lymph node enlargement in the throat.

There is also a chance that you might have developed an ulcer in the area of the tonsils (which is removed already in your case), which also causes persistent unilateral throat pain.

You can gargle with an antiseptic mouthwash for a few days and continue taking over-the-counter analgesics till your pain subsides.

A ten-day history of throat pain with a lymph node enlargement is usually inflammatory and not a sign or symptom of malignancy.

So, you need not worry about throat cancer unless there is an ulcerative (non-healing) lesion lasting for a few months without resolution even after treatment.

For more information consult an ENT otolaryngologist online -->

Hello doctor,

Thank you for your response. Last week, I was alright. But, this week, the pain in my ear and lymph node are back. I visited my GP today and he says that my ear is alright, but my throat is still red. When I checked my throat, I saw the same red line which I told you about before and sent you a picture of. The pain is not permanent, it is on and off. My lymph node is still swollen and bothering me. I am on another course of antibiotic since today called Teva-clindamycin. Do you have any idea why it is taking this long to get cured? I am really scared that something bad might happen.



Welcome back to

Let me reassure you that there is no lesion in your throat which gives a suspicion of malignancy.

After quitting smoking, we have seen that for about six months, patients get a recurrent throat infection, dryness of throat and associated cervical lymph node enlargement.

  • You may not even require antibiotics as your throat seems to be alright and not congested.
  • You may need to use antireflux medications, drink plenty of water, take multivitamin rich food or vitamin supplements, use chewable oral lozenges or honey.
  • The healing of airway after smoking cessation takes longer and it is normal to have such nonspecific throat symptoms.

You should stop worrying about cancer as your symptoms do not correlate with any symptoms of malignancy.

For more information consult an ENT otolaryngologist online -->

Hello doctor,

Thank you for your great explanation. I would like to ask you, what is the risk of cancer in my ear? I know I am not supposed to think negative, but I have an anxiety disorder since one year. That is why I am thinking this way, unfortunately.



Welcome back to

I can understand the reason behind this question.

Our nose, throat, and ear are intimately related and diseases involving one can have symptoms in the other. Our ear is connected to the nose by a tube known as the eustachian tube which is lined by similar cells which are present in our nose and throat.

As you know, smoking damages cells in our airway including cells in the eustachian tube. Smoking withdrawal leads to regeneration of cells of the eustachian tube. Like your throat, it can produce vague symptoms of ear blocking, ear pain, sound in the ear, etc. Once complete regeneration occurs, all the symptoms will gradually disappear.

Also, our throat and ear share a common nerve supply and a throat pain can refer to the ear which is known as referred otalgia.

Cancer of the ear is a very rare disease and it has absolutely no correlation with smoking. Ear cancer is commonly seen after the age of 70 years and it is never seen below 50 years. It is a type of skin malignancy and like any other skin malignancies, the causative factors are different.

I hope my explanation will help you to overcome your doubts. You are welcome to ask any questions. I would be happy to answer them.

For more information consult an ENT otolaryngologist online -->

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