Laryngeal Cancer

What Is Laryngeal Cancer?

Laryngeal cancer is cancer of the larynx or voice box. Your larynx is located in your throat, and is critical to your ability to swallow, breathe, and speak. Laryngeal cancer is one of the more common head and neck cancers; it affects roughly 13,000 Americans annually. About 80 percent of all cases involve men. This type of cancer also occurs more frequently with age. 

Laryngeal cancer is a serious threat to health but, if caught and treated early, can be cured. If you believe you may be developing voice-box cancer, see your Baptist Health physician immediately. 

What Are the Symptoms of Laryngeal Cancer?

Laryngeal cancer can be indicated by a wide range of symptoms:

  • Painful swallowing
  • Sore throat or hoarseness that doesn’t get better
  • Pain in the ears or Eustachian (auditory) tube
  • A lump or lumps in your throat or neck
  • Voice changes
  • Difficulty making sounds or speaking

More serious symptoms include labored or noisy breathing, bloody coughing, or an unrelieved feeling of something being caught in your throat.

What Are the Risk Factors for Laryngeal Cancer?

There are a number of risk factors associated with the incidence of laryngeal cancer:

  • Smoking or using other tobacco products
  • Drinking alcoholic beverages in medium to large amounts 
  • Eating poorly
  • Being male
  • Being over age 55
  • Working a job that requires regular contact with certain chemicals or industrial fumes or substances

Another factor is being susceptible to various forms of head or neck cancer. About one-quarter of all persons with one of these afflictions experiences a second head or neck cancer. 

How Is Laryngeal Cancer Diagnosed?

There are several steps your physician can take to diagnose laryngeal cancer. These include:

  • Physical exam: Your doctor will examine your head and neck for evidence of cancer. He or she will also ask you questions about your symptoms, their duration, and severity.
  • Laryngoscopy and biopsy: Your physician will use an endoscope to examine your larynx more closely. The endoscope is a narrow, lighted tube. If there is evidence of cancer, he or she will collect a small sample for analysis in a lab. This is called a biopsy. Irregular, possibly cancerous cells can be identified under a microscope. 
  • Medical imaging: Medical-imaging technology, such as CT scanners or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) devices, can be used to create detailed pictures of the larynx and surrounding structures. CT scanners utilize X-rays, while MRIs rely on magnets and radio waves. 
  • PET scan: PET scans are another kind of medical-imaging technology. The larynx absorbs a small dose of radioactive material that’s been injected into the body. This makes it visible to the PET scanner, which creates pictures by being sensitive to radioactive energy.

What Are the Stages of Laryngeal Cancer? 

Cancers are categorized according to their degree of development. These categories are known as stages. The higher the number, the more developed or advanced is the cancer. 

In determining stage, one important distinction is whether the cancer has spread from its place of origin to other locations in the body, often by means of the lymphatic system. Cancers of the larynx are no exception. In stages 0, I, and II, laryngeal cancers are small and are limited to the larynx. Stages III and IV are more serious; the tumor has grown and cancer has begun spreading elsewhere in the body. Advanced cancers are harder to cure, and require significantly more medical intervention than cancers caught at an early stage. 

How is Laryngeal Cancer Treated?

There are three primary methods of treating laryngeal cancer:

  • Surgery: Surgery targets tumors and adjacent tissues for removal. Surgical procedures include endoscopic resection, partial laryngectomy, and total laryngectomy. A tracheostomy, or neck hole, is sometimes required for healing. In the most serious cases, the hole is permanent, to enable breathing. Speech may only be possible through a medical device. 
  • Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy drugs attack and destroy cancer cells. This is often an effective form of treatment for laryngeal cancer, but it can result in numerous serious side effects, including hair loss, nausea, and others. 
  • Radiation therapy: High-energy beams are used to kill cancer cells and shrink the tumor. Loss of healthy, surrounding tissues also occurs, and can be painful.

How Do You Prevent Laryngeal Cancer?

To avoid laryngeal cancer, the two most meaningful steps you can take are to avoid tobacco products and excessive alcohol – especially smoking. Another helpful preventative measure is protecting yourself from developing HPV, human papillomavirus. This can be done by limiting your sexual partners, using a condom during sex, and speaking with your doctor about the HPV vaccine. Additionally, adding fruits and vegetables into your diet may help to lower the risk of developing laryngeal cancer. 

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