Laryngeal cancer is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the tissues of the larynx. The larynx is a part of the throat, between the base of the tongue and the trachea. The larynx contains the vocal cords, which vibrate and make sound when air is directed against them. The sound echoes through the pharynx, mouth, and nose to make a person’s voice. Most laryngeal cancers form in squamous cells, the thin, flat cells lining the inside of the larynx. Laryngeal cancer is a type of head and neck cancer.

Signs & Symptoms

These and other signs and symptoms may be caused by laryngeal cancer or by other conditions. Check with your doctor if you have any of the following:

  • A sore throat or cough that does not go away
  • Trouble or pain when swallowing
  • Ear pain
  • A lump in the neck or throat
  • A change or hoarseness in the voice

Treatment

Your OHC doctor will help you determine the best care plan for you. There are three types of standard treatment:

  • Radiation therapy uses high-energy x-rays or other types of radiation to kill cancer cells. Radiation therapy may work better in patients who have stopped smoking before beginning treatment. External radiation therapy to the thyroid or the pituitary gland may change the way the thyroid gland works. The doctor may test the thyroid gland before and after therapy to make sure it is working properly.

Hyperfractionated radiation therapy and new types of radiation therapy are being studied in the treatment of laryngeal cancer.

  • Surgery (removing the cancer in an operation) is a common treatment for all stages of laryngeal cancer. The following surgical procedures may be used:
    • Cordectomy: Surgery to remove the vocal cords only
    • Supraglottic laryngectomy: Surgery to remove the supraglottis only
    • Hemilaryngectomy: Surgery to remove half of the larynx (voice box). A hemilaryngectomy saves the voice
    • Partial laryngectomy: Surgery to remove part of the larynx (voice box). A partial laryngectomy helps keep the patient’s ability to talk
    • Total laryngectomy: Surgery to remove the whole larynx. During this operation, a hole is made in the front of the neck to allow the patient to breathe. This is called a tracheostomy
    • Thyroidectomy: The removal of all or part of the thyroid gland
    • Laser surgery: A surgical procedure that uses a laser beam (a narrow beam of intense light) as a knife to make bloodless cuts in tissue or to remove a surface lesion such as a tumor

Even if the doctor removes all the cancer that can be seen at the time of the surgery, some patients may be given chemotherapy or radiation therapy after surgery to kill any cancer cells that are left. Treatment given after the surgery, to lower the risk that the cancer will come back, is called adjuvant therapy.

  • Chemotherapy uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells, either by killing the cells or by stopping the cells from dividing.

There are new types of treatments being tested in clinical trials including:

  • Chemoprevention is the use of drugs, vitamins, or other substances to reduce the risk of developing cancer or to reduce the risk cancer will recur (come back). The drug isotretinoin is being studied to prevent the development of a second cancer in patients who have had cancer of the head or neck.
  • Radiosensitizers are drugs that make tumor cells more sensitive to radiation therapy. Combining radiation therapy with radiosensitizers may kill more tumor cells.