Laryngeal cancer is the growth of cancer cells in the larynx. The larynx is also known as the voicebox. It is a tube-shaped organ between the throat and the windpipe. It produces sound for speaking.
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Cancer happens when cells divide without control or order. These cells grow together to form a tumor. They can invade and damage nearby tissues. They can also spread to other parts of the body.
It is not clear what causes changes in the cells. It is likely a combination of genes and environment.
Laryngeal cancer is more common in men, and people over 55 years old. Other things that may raise the risk are:
- Excessive alcohol use
- Work exposure to certain air pollutants—such as wood dust, chemicals, and asbestos
- Gastroesophageal reflux (GERD)
- Weak immune system
- Laryngeal dysplasia—changes to cells in the larynx
Laryngeal cancer may cause:
- Lasting cough, hoarseness, or sore throat
- A lump in the throat or neck
- Problems swallowing
- Breathing problems or noisy breathing
- Lasting ear pain or fullness
- Weight loss without trying
- Lasting bad breath
- Coughing blood
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and health history. A physical exam will be done.
A sample of tissue may be taken and tested with a biopsy.
The larynx and other structures are checked with imaging. This may include:
Biopsy will confirm the diagnosis. The exam and test results will be used for staging. This will outline how far and fast the cancer has spread.
The goal is to remove the cancer. Treatment depends on the stage, size, and site of the cancer. A combination of treatments may be used. Options may include:
- Surgery—to remove the cancer, nearby tissue, and possibly lymph nodes, such as:
- Total laryngectomy—removal of the larynx and vocal cords
- Partial laryngectomy—removal of part of the larynx
- Tracheotomy—a lasting or short term breathing hole in the neck
- Neck dissection—removal of lymph nodes and some neck muscle
- Radiation therapy—to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors
- Chemotherapy by pills, injections, or IV—to kill cancer cells
The risk of laryngeal cancer may be reduced by:
- Not smoking
- Drinking alcohol in moderation
- Avoiding toxins linked to laryngeal cancer
- Treating GERD
American Cancer Society https://www.cancer.org
National Cancer Institute https://www.cancer.gov
BC Cancer Agency http://www.bccancer.bc.ca
Canadian Cancer Society http://www.cancer.ca
Head and neck cancer. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/head-and-neck-cancer Accessed March 18, 2021.
Laryngeal cancer. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/ear,-nose,-and-throat-disorders/tumors-of-the-head-and-neck/laryngeal-cancer. Accessed March 18, 2021.
Laryngeal and hypopharyngeal cancer. American Cancer Society website. Available at: https://www.cancer.org/cancer/laryngeal-and-hypopharyngeal-cancer.html. Accessed March 18, 2021.
Obid R, Redlich M, et al. The treatment of laryngeal cancer. Oral Maxillofac Surg Clin North Am. 2019;31(1):1-11
- Reviewer: EBSCO Medical Review Board Mohei Abouzied, MD, FACP
- Review Date: 01/2021
- Update Date: 03/18/2021