Cancer of the Larynx

Laryngeal cancer is when cancerous cells form in any part of the larynx, also called the voice box. The larynx is a two-inch long tube-shaped organ in the neck. The glottis is the area of the larynx where the vocal cords are located. The area above the cords is the supraglottis, and the area below is the subglottis.

Symptoms of Laryngeal Cancer

While each person may experience laryngeal cancer differently, possible symptoms include:

  • A cough that does not go away
  • A sore throat that does not go away
  • Feeling of a lump in the throat
  • Hoarseness or voice change
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Frequent choking on food
  • Pain when swallowing
  • Trouble breathing
  • Noisy breathing
  • Ear pain that does not go away
  • A lump in the neck
  • Unplanned weight loss
  • Bad breath

Causes of Laryngeal Cancer

The exact cause of laryngeal cancer is unknown; however, certain risk factors may increase your chance of developing it.

Risk factors for laryngeal cancer include:

  • Tobacco use
  • Alcohol abuse
  • Poor nutrition
  • Gender (more common in men)
  • Age (more common at age 65 or older)
  • Race (more common in African-Americans)
  • Workplace exposures to wood dust, paint fumes, asbestos, and some other chemicals
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), which is a risk factor for esophageal cancer and is being studied as a possible risk factor for laryngeal cancer 

Diagnosing Laryngeal Cancer

In addition to a complete medical history and physical exam, your doctor may carefully touch your neck to check for lumps, swelling, tenderness, and other changes. They may also perform other tests, including:

  • Laryngoscopy: There are two ways of performing this procedure. For indirect laryngoscopy, a small, long-handled mirror is inserted into the throat to see parts of the larynx. For direct laryngoscopy, an instrument called a laryngoscope (a narrow, lighted tube) is inserted through the nose or mouth to get a better view than the indirect laryngoscopy.
  • Biopsy: In this procedure, doctors take a tissue sample to be checked under a microscope. If cancerous cells are found, imaging procedures may be used to determine the extent, or stage, of the cancer.

Treatments for Laryngeal Cancer

Your doctor will work with you to develop the best treatment plan based on your age, overall health, and medical history; the extent of the disease; the expected course of the illness; and your tolerance for certain procedures or therapies.

Treatment may include one or a combination of the following:

  • Radiation therapy to kill cancerous cells or prevent them from growing in the treated area
  • Surgery to remove the cancerous cells or tumor
  • Chemotherapy to shrink tumors or kill cancerous cells that may have spread to other parts of the body
  • Targeted therapy to kill cancerous cells 

Why Choose Columbia

Our surgeons offer unparalleled skill and experience in removing laryngeal cancer. We use innovative approaches to ensure as little disruption as possible to the functions of your throat or your appearance. Our medical oncologists work with you to create a customized treatment plan that fits your needs and achieves the best possible outcomes.