(Cancer of the Larynx; Cancer of the Voice box )
Laryngeal cancer is the growth of cancer cells in the larynx. The larynx is also known as the voice box. 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:
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 symptoms and past health. 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. This cancer is staged from 0 to 4. The higher the number, the more 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.
Surgery may be done to remove the cancer, nearby tissue, and possibly lymph nodes. It may include:
- Endoscopic surgery—The cancer is removed with a scope put down the throat. This is often done for early stage cancer. Laser surgery to remove the cancer can also be done through the scope.
- Total laryngectomy—The larynx and vocal cords are removed.
- Partial laryngectomy—Part of the larynx is removed.
- Tracheotomy—A lasting or short term breathing hole is made in the neck.
- Neck dissection—The lymph nodes and some neck muscle are removed. This is done if the doctor thinks cancer could have spread to the nodes.
Chemotherapy (chemo) are drugs given by pills, injections, or IV—to kill cancer cells. It also kills some healthy cells. It may be given:
- As a main treatment
- After surgery—to kill any cancer cells that may have been left behind
- Before surgery—to shrink a large tumor so it is easier to remove
- For advanced cancer—to ease symptoms or treat cancers that cannot be removed
Radiation therapy is often given with chemo to kill cancer cells, shrink tumors, and ease symptoms.
Other treatments given by pills or IV may include:
- Targeted therapy—drugs that are directed at the cancer cells
- Immunotherapy—drugs that help the body fight the cancer
The risk of laryngeal cancer may be reduced by:
- Not smoking
- Drinking alcohol in moderation
- Avoiding toxins linked to laryngeal cancer
- Treating GERD
- Head and neck cancer. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/head-and-neck-cancer.
- 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.
- Laryngeal and hypopharyngeal cancer. American Cancer Society website. Available at: https://www.cancer.org/cancer/laryngeal-and-hypopharyngeal-cancer.html.
- Obid R, Redlich M, et al. The treatment of laryngeal cancer. Oral Maxillofac Surg Clin North Am. 2019;31(1):1-11
- Mohei Abouzied, MD, FACP
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