Laryngeal cancer is an uncommon type of cancer that affects the tissues of the voicebox. The majority of laryngeal cancers originate in the squamous cells – flat, thin cells in the epithelium that forms the innermost lining of the larynx.
Most laryngeal cancers are glottic and first involve the vocal cords. Cancers that develop above the glottis are termed supraglottic and are less common, while subglottic forms or those originating beneath the glottis are the least common.
The symptoms of laryngeal cancer include:
- Hoarseness of voice. This is often the first symptom.
- Pain or difficulty in swallowing
- Persistent cough
- A lump or swelling in the neck
The exact cause of laryngeal cancer is not yet clear, although several risk factors have been associated with development of the condition and these include:
- Smoking. This is one of the main risk factors for laryngeal cancer
- Long-term heavy alcohol consumption. This is another major risk factor
- A family history of head or neck cancer
- Exposure to toxic substances such as coal dust or diesel fumes
Diagnosis and treatment
Laryngeal cancer is around four times more common in men than in women. The condition is rare in people under 40 years of age. Diagnosis is based on a detailed medical history, clinical examination, imaging studies and tissue biopsy.
The main treatment approaches to laryngeal cancer are radiotherapy, surgery and chemotherapy. In many early-stage cases, radiotherapy followed by surgery is sufficient to remove the cancerous cells from the larynx and cure the illness. In more advanced cases, however, all three of radiotherapy, surgery and chemotherapy may be required.
Reviewed by Sally Robertson, BSc