Laryngeal Cancer

Laryngeal cancer is a form of head and neck cancer in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the tissues of the larynx (the voice box).

The larynx is a part of the throat, between the base of the tongue and the trachea (windpipe). The larynx contains the vocal cords, which vibrate and make sound when air is directed against them. The sound echoes through the pharynx, mouth, and nose to make your voice.

Most laryngeal cancers form in squamous cells, the thin, flat cells lining the inside of the larynx. The cancer may spread to nearby tissues or to the thyroid, trachea, or esophagus (food pipe). It may also spread to the lymph nodes in the neck, the carotid artery, the upper part of the spinal column, the chest, or to other parts of the body.

If you or someone you love has been diagnosed with laryngeal cancer, it’s important to know that the doctors at the Head and Neck Cancer Center at MD Anderson Cancer Center at Cooper offer you today’s most advanced diagnostic techniques and treatments with the best possible outcomes—delivered with compassion and respect.

Why Choose Cooper to Treat Laryngeal Cancer

Since 2013, Cooper has partnered with MD Anderson Cancer Center, consistently named one of the nation’s top cancer hospitals by U.S. News & World Report. Because of this relationship, you benefit from our:

  • Advanced diagnostic capabilities: Our imaging specialists use advanced diagnostic imaging such as CT, PET-CT, and other image-guided tests to detect laryngeal cancer with precision
  • Comprehensive treatments: Your skilled care team will include head and neck surgeons, medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, oral surgeons, and others. Working together, they develop a customized care plan just for you
  • Clinical research efforts: Because of our focus on cancer research, you have access to promising clinical trials that may improve your outcomes and quality of life
  • Dedicated nurse navigator: Our dedicated nurse navigator will help you better understand your treatment options while addressing any questions you have about your care, every step of the way
  • Full range of support services: Our extensive cancer care support services such as nutrition counseling and behavioral medicine therapies, can help you through your cancer treatment.

Risk Factors for Laryngeal Cancer

Anything that increases your risk of getting a disease is called a risk factor. The major risk factors for getting laryngeal cancer are:

  • Use of tobacco products
  • Moderate or heavy alcohol use (more than one drink a day)
  • Age (over half of people with laryngeal cancers are over age 65 when the cancer is first found)

People who use both tobacco and alcohol are at even higher risk since combining these two habits makes it many times more likely that they’ll get laryngeal cancer than people with neither habit.

Symptoms of Laryngeal Cancer

These are the most common symptoms of laryngeal cancer. It’s important to see your doctor if you have any of the following:

  • A sore throat or cough that doesn’t go away
  • Trouble or pain when swallowing
  • Ear pain
  • A lump in the neck or throat
  • A change or hoarseness in the voice

How Laryngeal Cancer Is Diagnosed

Tests that examine the throat and neck are used to help diagnose and stage laryngeal cancer. Staging refers to determining how advanced the cancer is, including whether it has spread to other areas of the body, which is important in planning treatment.

After your doctor performs a physical exam of your mouth, throat and neck, and takes a complete medical history, the following tests and procedures may be performed:

  • Biopsy: The removal of cells or tissues so they can be viewed under a microscope by a pathologist to check for signs of cancer. The sample of tissue may be removed during one of the following procedures:
    • Laryngoscopy: A procedure to look at the larynx (voice box) for abnormal areas. A mirror or a laryngoscope (a thin, tube-like instrument with a light and a lens for viewing) is inserted through the mouth to see the larynx. A special tool on the laryngoscope may be used to remove samples of tissue.
    • Endoscopy: A procedure to look at organs and tissues inside the body, such as the throat, esophagus, and trachea to check for abnormal areas. An endoscope (a thin, lighted tube with a light and a lens for viewing) is inserted through the mouth. A special tool on the endoscope may be used to remove samples of tissue.
  • CT scan (computed tomography scan): A procedure that makes a series of detailed pictures of areas inside the body using a computer linked to an x-ray machine. A dye may be injected into a vein or swallowed to help the organs or tissues show up more clearly.
  • MRI scan (magnetic resonance imaging): A procedure that uses a magnet, radio waves, and a computer to make a series of detailed pictures of areas inside the body. A dye may be injected into a vein or swallowed to help the organs or tissues show up more clearly.
  • PET scan (positron emission tomography scan): A procedure to find malignant (cancerous) cells in the body. A small amount of radioactive glucose (sugar) is injected into a vein. The PET scanner detects and creates a picture of where glucose is being used in the body. Malignant cells appear brighter because they’re more active and take up more glucose than normal cells.
  • PET-CT scan: A procedure in which PET and CT scans are done at the same time with the same machine. The combined scans produce more detailed pictures than either scan alone.
  • Bone scan: A procedure to check if there are rapidly dividing cells, such as cancer cells, in the bone.
  • Barium swallow: A series of x-rays of the esophagus and stomach; also called an upper GI series

How Laryngeal Cancer Is Treated

Treatment options depend on the stage of the disease, location and size of the tumor, and how to best maintain your ability to talk, eat, and breathe as normally as possible.  Standard treatment may include:

  • Radiation therapy
  • Surgery
  • Chemotherapy

New types of treatment are being tested in clinical trials, including:

  • Targeted therapy: Drugs that interfere with (target) specific molecules involved in cancer cell growth
  • Radiosensitizers: A drug that makes cancer cells more sensitive to radiation therapy

Make an Appointment With a Head and Neck Cancer Specialist

To learn more about the services available in the Division of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery or to schedule an appointment, please call 856.342.3113.