Laryngeal cancer is a rare cancer that develops in the larynx and is most common among individuals who smoke tobacco and drink alcohol.
The larynx is a two-inch wide triangular passageway just below the pharynx in the neck. The larynx is composed of three parts: the glottis, the supraglottis and the subglottis.
The glottis is the middle part of the larynx and contains the vocal cords. The supraglottis is the tissue located above the glottis and the subglottis is the tissue below the glottis that connects to the trachea.
Laryngeal cancer typically begins in the glottis and may spread to nearby lymph nodes in the neck, the back of the tongue, other sections of the neck, throat, lungs and other parts of the body.
Signs of laryngeal cancer include:
- A persistent cough
- A sore throat
- An abnormal lump in the throat or neck
- Frequent choking on food
- Persistent bad breath
- Difficulty or noisy breathing
- Difficulty or pain when swallowing
- Ear pain or an unusual sensation in and around the the skin of the ear
- Unexpected, significant weight loss
Risk factors for laryngeal cancer include:
- Exposure to secondhand smoke
- Moderate or heavy consumption of alcohol
- Poor nutrition and vitamin deficiencies
- Being over 40 years of age
- Previous history of head or neck cancer
- Human papillomavirus (HPV)
- Being male increases risk fourfold
- Low immunity
- Exposure to chemicals such as paint fumes and chemicals in metalworking
- Fanconi anemia
- Dyskeratosis congenita
When to Consult a Doctor
Patients experiencing symptoms of laryngeal cancer should schedule an appointment with their physician as soon as possible.
Diagnosing Laryngeal Cancer
Individuals with laryngeal cancer may have a visible lump on the outside of the neck. In these cases, the physician may order a biopsy to determine the cause of the growth and make a diagnosis.
Laryngeal cancer may also be diagnosed with the help of a laryngoscope, which is a device that has a small camera with a light on the end that allows the doctor to examine the mouth and throat.
Another diagnostic procedure that may be performed is a fiber-optic nasal endoscopy. During this procedure, the physician inserts a thin, flexible scope into the nostril to examine the pharynx and larynx.
The physician may need to analyze CT or MRI scans of the neck or head to see how far the cancer has spread and how big the tumor is. Depending on the results of the scan, the physician may perform an excisional biopsy to completely remove the tumor and send it to pathology for review.
Early-stage laryngeal cancer may be treated with radiation therapy. Chemotherapy or surgery may be necessary to treat laryngeal cancer in later stages.
During surgery, the surgeon may perform a neck dissection to remove any cancerous lymph nodes in the patient’s neck. Other surgeries that may be performed to treat laryngeal cancer include endoscopic resection, partial laryngectomy and total laryngectomy. Some patients may need a temporary or permanent tracheostomy, which is a hole in the neck that promotes healing after surgery.