The exact cause of laryngeal cancer is not clear. However, certain risk factors have been identified that increase the risk of developing this condition. Smoking, for example, is the main risk factor for laryngeal cancer and long-term excess alcohol consumption is another major risk factor.
Some of the risk factors for laryngeal cancer include:
The risk of laryngeal cancer is increased the longer a person smokes and the higher the number of cigarettes smoked per day. One study showed that people who smoke over 25 cigarettes a day are over 40 times more likely to develop the cancer than someone who does not smoke.
Heavy, long-term use of alcohol is also a major risk factor for laryngeal cancer, especially the consumption of spirits. When smoking and alcoholism is combined, the risk of laryngeal cancer is even higher.
Men are four times as likely as women to develop laryngeal cancer. This increased risk can probably be attributed to a greater proportion of men taking up smoking and heavy drinking than women, but rising numbers of female smokers mean this between-gender difference in risk may decrease.
Laryngeal cancer is rare under the age of 40 years and most cases occur in individuals aged over 60 years.
Individuals with a first degree relative, such as a brother, sister or parent, who has suffered from head and neck cancer is twice as likely to develop laryngeal cancer than a person without such a family history.
Exposure to toxic substances such as coal dust, paint fumes, wood dust, nickel, formaldehyde, and diesel fumes raises the risk of laryngeal cancer.
Some types of meat
Some research has shown that a diet rich in processed, fried or barbequed meat may increase the risk of laryngeal cancer.
Human papilloma virus
Some strains of human papilloma virus (HPV) seem to be linked to laryngeal cancer, with one study revealing the presence of HPV infection in around 25% of laryngeal cancers.
Reviewed by Sally Robertson, BSc