Laryngeal cancer may not show any symptoms in the early stages. Some people may experience the following:
- Sore throat or cough that does not go away
- Feeling that something is stuck in the throat
- Trouble or pain when swallowing
- Frequent choking on food and water
- Visible lump in the neck
- Change or hoarseness in the voice
- Mouth or tongue numbness
- Weight loss
- Trouble moving the tongue
- White patches on the tongue or mouth lining that do not go away
- Coughing up blood
What is laryngeal cancer?
Laryngeal cancer is a type of throat cancer that begins in the larynx, or voice box, which is part of the body that helps us breathe, swallow and speak. Each year, approximately 13,000 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with laryngeal cancer.
Cancer may start in one of three parts of the larynx:
- Supraglottis, or the upper part: Almost 35% of laryngeal cancers start here.
- Glottis, or the middle part: More than 60% of laryngeal cancers start here.
- Subglottis, or the lower part: About 5% of laryngeal cancers start here.
What are the risk factors for laryngeal cancer?
Risk factors for laryngeal cancer include:
- Smoking or using other tobacco products: If you smoke more than 25 cigarettes in a day, or if you have smoked for more than 40 years, you are 40 times more likely to develop laryngeal cancer.
- Heavy consumption of alcohol: Drinking more than 60 ml a day over several years also raises your risk of laryngeal cancer. Using both alcohol and tobacco together increases the risk further.
- Age: Laryngeal cancer occurs more frequently in people over the age of 55.
- Gender: Men are more likely to develop this type of cancer, possibly because smoking and heavy alcohol consumption are more common among men.
- History of head and neck cancer: Approximately 25% of people who have had head and neck cancer in the past will get it again.
- Occupational exposure: People who are exposed to sulfuric acid mist, wood dust, nickel, asbestos, or mustard gas at work are at an increased risk of developing laryngeal cancer.
How is laryngeal cancer treated?
Early-stage cancers that are localized to the throat may be managed by surgery. Advanced cancers may need a combination of treatment approaches:
- Surgery: For early-stage laryngeal cancer, surgery can remove the tumor while preserving the person’s ability to speak and swallow. For advanced cancer, surgeons often need to do a laryngectomy, removing the entire larynx. Surrounding tissues such as lymph nodes, vocal cords, and muscles may also need to be resected.
- Radiation therapy: High-energy radiation beams are targeted to the neck to kill the cancer cells.
- Chemotherapy: Oral or intravenous (IV) medications are used to kill or slow the growth of cancer cells.
- Immunotherapy: This treatment targets specific proteins on the cancer cells. Once these target proteins are uncovered, the body’s immune system can attack and kill the cancer cells.