Larynx Cancer (cont.)

What is cancer?

Cancer begins in cells, the building blocks that make up tissues. Tissues make up the larynx and the other organs of the body.

Normal cells grow and divide to form new cells as the body needs them. When normal cells grow old or get damaged, they die, and new cells take their place.

Sometimes, this process goes wrong. New cells form when the body doesn't need them, and old or damaged cells don't die as they should. The buildup of extra cells often forms a mass of tissue called a growth or tumor. The types of cells which form the tumor determine how the tumor will behave.

Tumors in the larynx can be benign (not cancer) or malignant (cancer). Benign tumors are not as harmful as malignant tumors:

  • Benign tumors (such as polyps or nodules):
    • are usually not a threat to life
    • can be treated or removed and usually don't grow back
    • don't invade the tissues around them
    • don't spread to other parts of the body
  • Malignant growths:
    • may be a threat to life
    • usually can be treated or removed but can grow back
    • can invade and damage nearby tissues and organs
    • can spread to other parts of the body

Laryngeal cancer cells can spread by breaking away from the tumor in the larynx. The process of spread is called metastasis. The cancer cells can travel through lymph vessels to nearby lymph nodes. They can also spread through blood vessels to the lungs, bones, or liver. After spreading, laryngeal cancer cells may attach to other tissues and grow to form new tumors that may damage those tissues.

Who is at risk for larynx cancer?

When you get a diagnosis of laryngeal cancer, it's natural to wonder what may have caused the disease. Doctors can't always explain why one person gets laryngeal cancer and another doesn't.

However, we do know that people with certain risk factors may be more likely than others to develop laryngeal cancer. A risk factor is something that may increase the chance of getting a disease.

Smoking tobacco causes most laryngeal cancers. Heavy smokers who have smoked tobacco for a long time are most at risk for laryngeal cancer.

Also, people who are heavy drinkers are more likely to develop laryngeal cancer than people who don't drink alcohol. The risk increases with the amount of alcohol that a person drinks. The risk of laryngeal cancer increases even more for people who are heavy drinkers and heavy smokers. However, not everyone who drinks or smokes heavily will develop the disease.

Many other possible risk factors are under study. For example, researchers are studying whether an HPV infection in the throat may increase the risk of laryngeal cancer. HPV is a group of viruses that can infect the body. HPV causes the vast majority of cervix cancer and at least half of the oropharynx cancers today. Another area of research is whether reflux (the backward flow of liquid from the stomach to the throat) may increase the risk of laryngeal cancer.

How to Quit Tobacco

Quitting is important for anyone who uses tobacco. Quitting at any time is beneficial to your health.

For people who already have laryngeal cancer, quitting may reduce the chance of cancer returning after treatment. Quitting may also reduce the chance of getting another type of cancer (such as lung, esophagus, or oral cancer), lung disease, or heart disease caused by tobacco. In addition, quitting can help cancer treatments work better.

There are many ways to get help:

  • Ask your doctor about medicine or nicotine replacement therapy. Your doctor can suggest a number of treatments that help people quit.
  • Ask your doctor or dentist to help you find local programs or trained professionals who help people stop using tobacco.
  • Call NCI's Smoking Quitline at 1–877–44U–QUIT (1–877–448–7848) or chat using LiveHelp. We can tell you about:
    • Ways to quit smoking
    • Groups that help smokers who want to quit
    • NCI publications about quitting smoking
    • How to take part in a study of methods to help smokers quit
  • Go online to Smokefree.gov, a Federal Government Web site. It offers a guide to quitting smoking and a list of other resources.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 3/14/2014

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