If you are a veteran who received an injury to your pharynx while in service or if you have been diagnosed with a type of throat cancer, you may be eligible for VA disability compensation benefits.
In This Article About VA Disability for Pharynx and Other Throat Cancers:
- What is a Pharynx?
- What Are Throat Injuries?
- Service Connecting Pharynx Injuries
- What is Pharynx Cancer?
- Service Connecting Pharynx Cancer
- What Causes Pharyngeal Cancer?
- Symptoms of Pharynx Cancer
- Why Hire a Veteran’s Benefits Attorney?
What is a Pharynx?
Here’s a quick anatomy quiz: where exactly is your pharynx? Your likely answer: “my throat.” We tend to use the word “throat” to describe the general area of our neck between our chin and our collar bone, but it’s more complicated than that.
If you have had a sore throat, you have a good idea of where the pharynx is. It’s the opening that begins behind the nose and ends just above the esophagus.
When doctors diagnose problems with the pharynx, they identify which of these three parts is affected:
- Upper (nasopharynx)
- Middle (oropharynx), which includes the back third of the tongue, part of the roof of the mouth, and tonsils
- Lower (hypopharynx)
We’ll talk about these terms a little more later in this article.
The larynx, or voice box, is also considered part of the throat and is sometimes included in the category of throat cancers. If you are looking for more information about service connecting a larynx problem, see our article about chronic laryngitis and laryngectomy.
What Are Throat Injuries?
When you see the phrase “throat injury” you might imagine an external traumatic wound to the neck, but that is not what the word “injury” means in this context.
A person with a pharynx injury experiences swollen sinuses (called sinusitis), chronic sore throat, and difficulty eating or swallowing.
The VA Ratings Disabilities Schedule defines pharynx injuries as:
- Narrowing or obstruction of the pharynx
- Absence of the soft palate secondary to trauma, chemical burns, or granulomatous disease (an immune system disorder)
- Paralysis of the soft palate
Throat injuries are caused by viral infections, acid reflux, and strep throat.
Service Connecting Pharynx Injuries
If you had any of these illnesses or issues during your service and can prove a connection to your service, you could be eligible for benefits.
Injuries to the pharynx appear in the ratings schedule as diagnostic code 6521 with a 50% rating.
The codes for sinusitis are 6510 through 6514. The ratings for sinusitis are 10%, 30%, and 50% depending on the level of severity.
What is Pharynx Cancer?
Pharynx cancer, or pharyngeal cancer, is cancer in the tissues of the throat. It is commonly referred to as throat cancer, which is a term also used to describe larynx (or laryngeal) cancer.
The National Cancer Institute estimates that 1% of adults in the U.S. will be diagnosed with pharyngeal cancer or oral cavity cancer in their lifetime.
Service Connecting Pharynx Cancer
The VA makes presumptive connections between pharyngeal cancer and military service for veterans who participated in a qualifying radiation-risk activities or certain veterans who were exposed to burn pits and toxins. In those cases, the VA considers pharynx cancer a presumptive condition and will grant a service connection.
If you want to service connect throat cancer for any other reason, you’ll have to explain how it was caused by events during your military service. That means you need your service records, military medical records, and a medical nexus letter.
The Nexus Letter is like the missing link to a successful VA disability compensation claim. In this video, one of our veterans disability lawyers explains the importance of the Nexus Letter.
Agent Orange and Pharyngeal Cancer
The VA does not consider pharyngeal cancer to be a presumptive condition of Agent Orange exposure, despite growing evidence to the contrary. However, larynx cancer is a presumptive condition of Agent Orange exposure, meaning you do not have to prove a service connection.
Although pharynx cancer is not a presumptive condition for Agent Orange, it is possible to receive a service connection in an appeal.
For example, a Vietnam veteran who was experiencing nose bleeds, facial pain, and painful swallowing was diagnosed with nasopharyngeal cancer in 2003. He applied for service connection and was denied.
In his appeal, the veteran’s doctors argued that the pharynx is part of the respiratory system and other respiratory system cancers are related to Agent Orange exposure. The Board of Veterans Appeals ruled in 2008 that the veteran’s cancer was “as least as likely as not” a result of Agent Orange exposure and granted him service connection.
If you are a Vietnam veteran who was exposed to Agent Orange, there is a good chance you should be receiving VA disability compensation — even if not for pharynx cancer. If you are unsure if you qualify or not, contact us today and we will see how we can help you.
Alcohol Use and Pharyngeal Cancer
If you were diagnosed with pharyngeal cancer and believe it is caused by alcohol abuse related to your military service, it is possible to receive a secondary service connection. A doctor would need to convince the VA that your cancer was caused by alcoholism related to your mental health issues or PTSD from military service.
Even if you don’t receive a service connection for pharynx cancer, you may be able to receive VA disability for alcoholism.
What Causes Pharyngeal Cancer?
Lifestyle habits and other factors can cause throat cancer. Risk factors include:
- Excessive alcohol consumption
- Exposure to chemicals such as formaldehyde, nickel, and sulfuric acid fumes
- The Epstein-Barr virus
Cancer can form in any of the three parts of the pharynx, which were mentioned earlier in this article. We describe the differences among the types of pharynx cancer below.
Nasopharynx cancer, which is in the upper part of the pharynx, is a rare type of head and neck cancer.
It has been linked to the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV). Many people can carry the virus without getting sick or being diagnosed with nasopharyngeal cancer.
People who work certain jobs, including construction, textile, ceramic, logging, and food processing, are at increased risk because of exposure to wood dust, formaldehyde, asbestos, and nickel.
Oropharyngeal cancer occurs in the tonsils, soft palate, and base of the tongue. Statistics for this type of throat cancer typically include oral cavity (or mouth) cancer.
Human papillomavirus (HPV) infection is the most frequent cause of oropharyngeal cancer (middle part of the pharynx). More than 54,000 people are diagnosed each year with these cancers, according to the American Cancer Society.
Cancer that develops in the hypopharynx, the lower part of the pharynx, is also rare.
Smoking or chewing tobacco products and heavy alcohol consumption can greatly increase your chances of developing hypopharyngeal cancer. Eating a poor diet without an adequate amount of nutrients can also increase your risk.
A decrease in new cases during the last 20 years is likely because of a decrease in cigarette smoking.
Symptoms of Pharynx Cancer
Pharyngeal cancer can be difficult to diagnose in its early stages and is complicated because many of the symptoms are similar to other conditions.
Some of the signs of pharynx cancer are:
- Painful lump in the neck
- Sore throat
- Facial and ear pain
- Ear pain
- Trouble swallowing (dysphagia)
- Trouble breathing, speaking, or hearing
Why Hire a Veteran’s Benefits Attorney?
Many initial disability claims get wrongly denied, and the appeals process can be lengthy and confusing. Hiring an experienced and trustworthy VA benefits attorney can take the stress and worry out of this process.
Woods and Woods will help you with your initial claim for free. We work on a contingency basis, meaning we only charge a fee if we win your appeal.
Reach out to us today and see if we can help you with your VA disability claim.
Talk to Us About Your Claim:
No. The only presumptive connection the VA makes between pharyngeal cancer and military service is for veterans who participated in a qualifying radiation-risk activity.
If alcohol abuse is related to your military service, it is possible to receive a secondary service connection for pharynx cancer. A doctor would need to convince the VA that your cancer was caused by alcoholism related to your mental health issues or PTSD from military service.