New medical research has declared that a regular sore throat, combined with shortness of breath, trouble swallowing or earache, could be a sign of larynx cancer.
General practitioners have reportedly been told that hoarseness that is severe enough to prompt a patient to book an appointment should make them think seriously about referring the person to a specialist.
The research, led by the University of Exeter (UK), looked at more than 800 patients diagnosed with cancer of the larynx and found more than a five per cent risk of cancer when these symptoms showed, compared to 2.7 per cent for hoarseness alone.
Guidelines from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) currently recommend that those with persistent hoarseness or an unexplained neck lump are investigated for throat or laryngeal cancer.
Professor Willie Hamilton, who co-wrote the study, said:
"This research matters - when Nice guidance for cancer investigation was published there was no evidence from GP practices to guide this, nor to inform GPs. Crucially, hoarseness serious enough to be reported to GPs does warrant investigation.
"Furthermore, our research has shown the potential severity of some symptom combinations previously thought to be low-risk."
He added that the new research didn't talk about any sore throat, but one that is "significant enough to go to the GP".
"We're all used to sore throats, but the sore throats that are reported to GPs are already unusual because it's gone outside the patient's norms," he said, adding that it is the combination of persistent symptoms - sore throat, hoarseness and breathing or swallowing problems - that could potentially be a warning sign for the patient.
Despite the results of the new study, which is published in the British Journal of General Practice, Cancer Research UK's Weilin Wu has reassured patients, stating they should not be alarmed.
"A sore throat on its own wasn't linked to laryngeal cancer," he said. "But importantly, this study also provides the best evidence to date to support the current recommendation to refer older patients with persistent hoarseness."
The new research will feed into the NICE guidelines when they are updated, with Dr Shephard stating: "It's vital for selecting the right patients for referral. If we get people earlier we can then diagnose the cancer at an earlier stage and they will have access to the right treatment."
Each year, more than 1,700 people are diagnosed with cancer of the larynx in the UK; of these people, 80 per cent are men. The numbers have risen by almost one third over the past two decades, with smoking and alcohol strongly linked to the disease.
Lead author Dr Elizabeth Shephard said: "The UK still lags well behind the rest of Europe on cancer survival rate, although our research is part of a body of work that is leading to significant improvements."
"There's still some way to go and the results of this study really highlight the need to improve the current recommendations for all of the head and neck cancers, which are either incomplete or absent."