Laryngeal Cancer: Overview
What is laryngeal cancer?
Cancer is made of changed cells that grow out of control. The
changed (abnormal) cells often grow to form a lump or mass called a tumor. Cancer
cells can also grow into (invade) nearby areas. And they can spread to other parts
of the body. This is called metastasis.
Laryngeal cancer starts in the voice box (larynx), which is
located in your neck. It is about 2 inches long and looks like a tube. The larynx
makes sound for speaking. You use the larynx when you breathe, talk, and swallow.
The larynx is located at the top of the windpipe (trachea). The trachea is the tube
that carries air between the throat and lungs.
The larynx has 3 main parts:
Glottis. This is where the
vocal cords are.
Supraglottis. This is
located above the vocal cords.
Subglottis. This is below
the vocal cords, where the larynx connects to the trachea.
Who is at risk for laryngeal cancer?
A risk factor is anything that may increase your chance of having
a disease. The exact cause of someone’s cancer may not be known. But risk factors
can make it more likely for a person to have cancer. Some risk factors may not be in
your control. But others may be things you can change.
The risk factors for laryngeal cancer include:
Being a man
Being age 65 or older
Being African American or white
Eating a diet that is low in some vitamins and minerals
Having an inherited syndrome, such as Fanconi anemia or
Exposure to certain chemicals
Talk with your healthcare provider about your risk factors for
laryngeal cancer and what you can do about them.
Can laryngeal cancer be prevented?
Researchers don’t yet know how to prevent this type of cancer. But
you may be able to lower your risk by not using any form of tobacco.
Are there any screening tests for laryngeal
There is no recommended screening test for laryngeal cancer.
Screening tests check for diseases in people who don't have symptoms.
What are the symptoms of laryngeal cancer?
Symptoms of laryngeal cancer can depend upon where the cancer is
in the larynx. They can include:
Hoarseness that lasts longer than 2 weeks
Lump in the neck or feeling that something is stuck in your
Trouble swallowing or breathing
A cough or sore throat, or both, that won't go away
Choking on food. This can happen as the tumor grows.
Unexplained weight loss
Ear pain that doesn't go away
Many of these may be caused by other health problems. But it is
important to see your healthcare provider if you have these symptoms. Only a
healthcare provider can tell if you have cancer.
How is laryngeal cancer diagnosed?
If your healthcare provider thinks you may have laryngeal cancer,
you will need exams and tests to be sure. Your healthcare provider will ask you
about your health history, your symptoms, risk factors, and family history of
disease. He or she will also give you a physical exam. You may get one or more
If your doctor finds abnormal areas of tissue, you'll need a
biopsy. A biopsy is the only way to know if a lump or change is cancer. Small pieces
of tissue are taken out and checked for cancer cells.
After a diagnosis of laryngeal cancer, you’ll likely have other
tests. These help your healthcare providers learn more about your cancer. They can
help determine the stage of the cancer. The stage is how much and how far the cancer
has spread (metastasized) in your body. It is one of the most important things to
know when deciding how to treat the cancer.
Once your cancer is staged, your healthcare provider will talk
with you about what the stage means for your treatment. Be sure to ask your
healthcare provider to explain the stage of your cancer to you in a way you can
How is laryngeal cancer treated?
Your treatment choices depend on the type of laryngeal cancer you
have, test results, and the stage of the cancer. The goal of treatment may be to
cure you, control the cancer, or help ease problems caused by the cancer. Talk with
your healthcare team about your treatment choices, the goals of treatment, and what
the risks and side effects may be.
Types of treatment for cancer are either local or systemic. Local
treatments remove, destroy, or control cancer cells in one area. Surgery and
radiation are local treatments. Systemic treatment is used to destroy or control
cancer cells that may have traveled around your body. When taken by pill or
injection, chemotherapy and targeted therapy are systemic treatments. You may have
just one treatment or a combination of treatments.
There are 4 main treatment methods for laryngeal cancer:
Talk with your healthcare providers about your treatment options.
Make a list of questions. Think about the benefits and possible side effects of each
option. Talk about your concerns with your healthcare provider before making a
What are treatment side effects?
Cancer treatment such as chemotherapy and radiation can damage
normal cells. This can cause side effects such as hair loss, mouth sores, and
vomiting. Talk with your healthcare provider about side effects you might have and
ways to manage them. There may be things you can do and medicines you can take to
help prevent or control side effects.
After surgery for laryngeal cancer, you may have to adjust to new
ways of eating, drinking, speaking, and breathing. The types of changes you have
depend on the type of surgery that was done.
Coping with laryngeal cancer
Many people feel worried, depressed, and stressed when dealing
with cancer. Getting treatment for cancer can be hard on your mind and body. Keep
talking with your healthcare team about any problems or concerns you have. Work
together to ease the effect of cancer and its symptoms on your daily life.
Here are tips:
Talk with your family or friends.
Ask your healthcare team or social worker for help.
Speak with a counselor.
Talk with a spiritual advisor, such as a minister or
Ask your healthcare team about medicines for depression or
Keep socially active.
Join a cancer support group.
Cancer treatment is also hard on the body. To help yourself stay
healthier, try to:
Eat a healthy diet, with as many protein foods as
Drink plenty of water, fruit juices, and other liquids.
Keep physically active.
Rest as much as needed.
Talk with your healthcare team about ways to manage
treatment side effects.
Take your medicines as directed by your team.
When should I call my healthcare provider?
Your healthcare provider will talk with you about when to call.
You may be told to call if you have any of the below:
New symptoms or symptoms that get worse
Signs of an infection, such as a fever
Side effects of treatment that affect your daily function or
don't get better with treatment
Ask your healthcare provider what signs to watch for, and when to
call. Know how to get help after office hours and on weekends and holidays.
Key points about laryngeal cancer
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your healthcare
Know the reason for your visit and what you want to
Before your visit, write down questions you want
Bring someone with you to help you ask questions and
remember what your provider tells you.
At the visit, write down the name of a new diagnosis, and
any new medicines, treatments, or tests. Also write down any new instructions
your provider gives you.
Know why a new medicine or treatment is prescribed, and how
it will help you. Also know what the side effects are.
Ask if your condition can be treated in other ways.
Know why a test or procedure is recommended and what the
results could mean.
Know what to expect if you do not take the medicine or have
the test or procedure.
If you have a follow-up appointment, write down the date,
time, and purpose for that visit.
Know how you can contact your provider if you have