Larynx Cancer (Throat Cancer)

Throat cancer (larynx cancer) facts*

*Throat cancer (larynx cancer) facts medically edited by: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

  • The larynx is the voice box located at the top of the windpipe (trachea).
  • Cancer of the larynx occurs most often in people over the age of 55 years.
  • People who stop smoking can greatly reduce their risk of cancer of the larynx.
  • Painless hoarseness can be a symptom of cancer of the larynx.
  • The larynx can be examined with a viewing tube called a laryngoscope.
  • Treatment of cancer of the larynx depends on the location and size of the tumor as well as the age and health of the patient.
  • Cancer of the larynx is usually treated with radiation therapy or surgery. Chemotherapy can also be used for cancers that have spread.

What is the larynx?

The larynx is an organ in your throat. It's at the front of your neck.

This organ is about 2 inches (5 centimeters) wide, which is about the size of a lime.

The larynx is also called the voice box. It has two bands of muscle that form the vocal cords. The cartilage at the front of the larynx is sometimes called the Adam's apple.

The larynx has three main parts:

  • Top: The top part of the larynx is the supraglottis.
  • Middle: The middle part is the glottis. Your vocal cords are in this part.
  • Bottom: The bottom part is the subglottis. It connects to the windpipe (trachea).

Your larynx opens or closes to allow you to breathe, talk, or swallow:

  • Breathing: When you hold your breath, your vocal cords shut tightly. When you let out your breath or breathe in, your vocal cords relax and open.
  • Talking: Your larynx makes the sound of your voice. When you talk, your vocal cords tighten and move closer together. Air from your lungs is forced between the cords and makes them vibrate. The vibration makes the sound. Your tongue, lips, and teeth form this sound into words.
  • Swallowing: Your larynx protects your lungs from food and liquid. When you swallow, a flap called the epiglottis covers the opening of your larynx to keep food and liquid out of your lungs. The picture below shows how food or liquid passes through the esophagus on its way from the mouth to the stomach.
Picture of the thyroid gland
Picture of the thyroid gland

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Throat Cancer Symptoms and Signs

Throat cancers may not cause any symptoms if they are very small and have not spread at the time of diagnosis. Sometimes, an area of irritation or discoloration on the lining issues of the throat is the only sign of an abnormality. Depending upon the extent of spread of the cancer, other symptoms can include swelling of nearby tissues, enlarged lymph nodes, trouble breathing, difficulty speaking, neck or throat pain, ear pain, painful swallowing, and headache.