The symptoms of laryngeal cancer can be similar to symptoms that arise in other conditions. For example, a common early sign is a hoarse voice, a symptom that is also seen in laryngitis.
Some of the symptoms of laryngeal cancer include:
Hoarseness of voice is one of the most common symptoms and should be checked if it persists for more than three weeks.
Pain or difficulty swallowing
Sore throat and sensation of something stuck in the throat
A lump in the neck
Foul smelling breath
Shortness of breath and noisy breathing (stridor) caused by partial obstruction of the airway.
Symptoms that are common to many cancers such as unexplained weight loss, weakness and fatigue.
The diagnosis of laryngeal cancer is based on a detailed medical history, clinical examination, imaging studies and tissue biopsy. Details of the patient’s smoking and drinking habits are also obtained. The doctor examines the throat and ears as well as feeling the lymph nodes in the neck and under the arms. A patient may then be referred to hospital for further tests or to an ear, nose and throat specialist. Some examples of further tests a patient may need to undergo include:
Nasoendoscopy involves a small, flexible tube with a light and camera at the tip (an endoscope) being passed down the back of the throat via the nostril to record and display images of the inside of the larynx.
For this procedure, the endoscope is passed into the larynx via the mouth to obtain images. This procedure is performed while the patient is under general anesthetic because it is more uncomfortable than nasoendoscopy.
If cancer is suspected on endoscopy, a tissue biopsy may be taken and sent for analysis. This procedure can be performed during a nasoendoscopy or laryngoscopy using a small surgical instrument that is passed into the larynx. The tissue is examined to check for the presence of cancer cells and to determine the type and grade of any cancer that is present. If the lesion is small and confined to the larynx, it may be possible to surgically remove the cancerous tissue.
If cancer is detected, imaging studies may be performed to check whether the cancer has spread. Examples of these tests include X-ray, computed tomogrpahy (CT) scan, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan, positron emission tomography (PET) scan and ultrasound scan.
Reviewed by Sally Robertson, BSc