Written by Ada’s Medical Knowledge Team
What is laryngeal cancer?
Laryngeal cancer is a cancerous condition affecting different areas of the throat, larynx, or voice box. Most commonly the cancer affects the glottis, or vocal chords, where a tumor may develop. Less common sites of laryngeal cancer include the areas above and below the vocal chords, which are called the supraglottis and subglottis areas. The condition leads to hoarseness of the voice, coughing, foul breath, and swallowing difficulties.
The most common risk factors for this condition are smoking and excessive alcohol consumption, especially in combination. A throat infection caused by the sexually-transmitted human papilloma virus (HPV) can harm the cells of the voice box, leading to this type of cancer. Gastroesophageal reflux disease, where contents of the stomach are regurgitated, can irritate the lining of the voice box, increasing the risk of laryngeal cancer.
Typical symptoms include vocal hoarseness, sore throat, ear pain, persistent coughing, and halitosis. Difficulties swallowing may occur due to a tumor which restricts the throat's passageway.
The diagnosis consists of evaluating a person's lifestyle habits and carrying out a physical examination. X-rays, CT or MRI scans may be carried out and a biopsy (tissue sample) is often taken.
Treatment depends on the size and type of cancer, and whether it has spread. This information indicates the 'stage' of the cancer. Treatment involves surgery to remove the cancer and may be radiotherapy or chemotherapy or a combination of both. The treating doctor can give the best advice as to treatment on an individual basis.
Quitting drinking and smoking may prevent tumor development. People undergoing treatment who stop drinking and smoking may be able to prevent a second tumor from developing. Treatment of gastroesophageal disease may reduce the risk of laryngeal cancer. A vaccine for the human papilloma virus is available. The ability of this vaccine to prevent laryngeal cancer is still under investigation.
Other names for laryngeal cancer
- Cancer of the larynx
- Laryngeal carcinoma
- Vocal cord cancer