Laryngeal cancer is a cancer of the larynx, or voice box. The larynx is in the throat, behind the tongue and above the windpipe. It contains the vocal cords and produces sound for speaking. 

Laryngeal cancer is rare. It affects about 14,000 people a year in the United States, mostly men. The number of new cases of laryngeal cancer is dropping 2 to 3 percent a year, most likely because fewer people are smoking.

Risk factors that can increase your chances of getting laryngeal cancer include:

  • Smoking or chewing tobacco
  • Heavy alcohol use
  •  Male over 40

Other risk factors include:

  • Acid reflux
  • Human papilloma virus (HPV) infection
  • Diet low in fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Regular exposure to substances like coal dust, paint fumes and chemicals

Treatment

There are several treatment options for treating laryngeal cancer, including:

  • Surgery to remove the cancer may include removing part or all of the larynx or vocal cords and/or part or all of thyroid gland.
  • Radiation therapy uses high-energy X-rays or other types of radiation to kill cancer cells and is often used with other treatments.
  • Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells and stop them from growing.
  • Targeted therapy uses drugs to attack specific cancer cells and causes less harm to normal cells than radiation and chemotherapy.
  • Clinical trials test new treatment options.

Your Penn State Cancer Institute doctor will discuss the best way to treat your cancer. Your plan will depend on the type and extent, or stage, of cancer. All cancer decisions are reviewed by a multidisciplinary team including surgeons, radiation and medical oncologists, and pathologists.

Treatment options depend on:

  • Stage of the tumor. A lower stage of disease, such as stage 1, indicates a cancer confined to one area. A higher stage, such as stage 4, indicates a cancer that has spread to other areas of the body.
  • Location and size of cancer/tumor
  • Keeping patient’s ability to eat, talk and breathe as normal as possible
  • Whether the cancer has come back (reoccurred)

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Prevention and Screening

There are no recommended screenings for laryngeal cancer. Call your doctor if you have any symptoms of this disease.

You can take steps to reduce your risk of developing laryngeal cancer:

  • Stop smoking or don’t start smoking.
  • Drink alcohol in moderation or not at all.
  • Choose a healthy diet with lots of fruits and vegetables.
  • Consider the HPV vaccine to protect against this sexually transmitted disease.

Symptoms and Diagnosis

Laryngeal cancer is a cancer of the larynx, or voice box.

Symptoms

Common symptoms of laryngeal cancer include:

  • Persistent cough 
  • Hoarseness 
  • Sore throat that doesn't go away
  • Lump in throat or neck
  • Difficulty or pain when swallowing
  • Ear pain

Diagnosis

If you experience symptoms of laryngeal cancer, schedule an appointment with your primary care provider.

Your doctor will do a physical exam of your throat and neck to check for abnormalities. He or she will also examine the inside of your mouth and the tongue. 

The following tests may be used to diagnose laryngeal cancer:

  • Biopsy. A small sample of skin taken from the mouth is examined under a microscope to look for cancer cells. Your doctor will remove the skin sample using a thin instrument inserted into your mouth.
  • Imaging tests. These tests use X-rays or radio waves to create a picture of the inside of your body. Your doctor may use them to determine if cancer has spread to other parts of the body. Tests include computerized tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), positron emission tomography (PET), PET-CT and bone scans.

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