The larynx lies in front of the neck just above the windpipe (trachea). It’s used to make voice sounds and is also called the voice box. It helps breathing and swallowing. During breathing, vocal cords relax and open. The vocal cords close when holding the breath. With swallowing, the larynx stops foods and liquids from going down the windpipe into the lungs. Laryngeal carcinoma is cancer of the larynx.
More than 10,000 new cases are diagnosed in the United States each year. More men than women get it, but in the past 30 years women have been getting it more often, maybe because of increasing tobacco and alcohol use.
The exact cause is unknown. Some things that increase chances of getting it include age (older than 55), sex (men more than women), smoking, drinking alcohol, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), and work exposures to substances such as sulfuric acid and asbestos. Smoking with drinking means even higher risk. Laryngeal cancer is not contagious.
A common symptom is lasting hoarseness or change in the voice. Other symptoms are a cough that doesn’t go away, trouble swallowing, pain with swallowing, loss of appetite and weight, swollen lymph glands in the neck, and shortness of breath.
For diagnosis, the doctor may do indirect laryngoscopy. The doctor uses a long-handled mirror to look down the throat to see whether vocal cords move properly. The doctor may also do direct laryngoscopy and put a thin lighted tube (laryngoscope) through the nose or mouth to look down the throat. Biopsy may be done. In a biopsy, a small piece of tissue is removed to look for cancer cells with a microscope.
Laryngeal cancer must be staged to find out how far it has spread. Staging is usually done with computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
Treatments includes surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy. Surgery to remove the larynx is called laryngectomy, either total (removing the whole larynx) or partial (removing only part). Sometimes, lymph nodes are removed. After laryngectomy, a new airway through the front of the neck (tracheostomy) may be needed.
Radiation therapy uses high-energy x-rays to kill cancer cells. It may be used alone to kill small tumors, before surgery to shrink large tumors, or with chemotherapy.
Chemotherapy (drugs that kill cancer cells) may be used before or after surgery or radiation.
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