Cancer of the Larynx (Voice Box)
Cancer of the larynx (voice box) is abnormal growth of cells in the voice box. The cells create a malignant (life-threatening) tumor in your larynx. If not treated, it can spread throughout the throat and block your air passage. It may spread to the lymph nodes in your neck and then to other parts of your body.
Laryngeal cancer can usually be cured if found in its early stages. Most cases of laryngeal cancer happen in people who have been smokers.
How does it occur?
The exact cause of laryngeal cancer is not known, but it is most common among people who smoke heavily and drink large amounts of alcohol.
What are the symptoms?
Often the only early symptom of laryngeal cancer is hoarseness that does not go away and gets worse over time. Usually there are no cold or flu-like symptoms and no pain with the hoarseness.
You may have the following symptoms in later stages:
- Chronic cough
- Trouble breathing and swallowing
- Coughing up blood
- An obvious lump in the neck.
How is it diagnosed?
I will ask about your symptoms and will examine your throat. To gain more information, I will do the following:
- Look at your larynx with a special viewing tube (laryngoscope). For a fibreoptic laryngoscopic exam, it will be done in the clinic under local anaesthesia. It is painless and takes a few minutes to do. A video recording of the nose & throat examination will be done for you to view it later.
- It may be necessary to take a sample (biopsy) of the affected area of your larynx or vocal cords. The biopsy may be done to see if a growth is cancer. This is done under general anaesthesia. A CT scan of the neck may also be performed.
What is the treatment?
Your healthcare provider will treat cancer of the larynx based on the spread of the disease when it is diagnosed. The cancer may be completely cured if treatment begins in the early stages of the cancer. Your provider may recommend that you have a combination of the following treatments:
- Radiation therapy
- Chemotherapy (anticancer drugs) to destroy cancer cells, reduce the size of the tumor, and possibly let you keep your voice box
- Surgery to remove the tumor and all or part of your larynx.
Radiation alone cures 85% of laryngeal cancers in the early stages.
If your larynx is removed, you will need speech therapy to learn new ways to speak. A laryngectomee is a person who has had the larynx surgically removed and so has permanently lost the ability to speak normally. You can expect to live a healthy, productive life and will learn to speak in new ways, such as the following:
- having a one-way valve implanted between your esophagus and airway to allow air for speech to enter your mouth
- using an electromechanical device to cause a vibration that produces sound that you can shape into words with your tongue, cheeks, lips, and teeth
- learning to use your esophagus instead of your larynx by swallowing air and bringing the air back into your mouth for speech.
How long will the effects last?
The effects of cancer of the larynx depend on the spread of the tumor when it is detected and the treatment. Your age and physical condition are also important. Some treatments are not recommended for people in poor health or who do not stop heavy use of cigarettes or alcohol.
How can I take care of myself?
- Eat frequent, healthy meals that are low in fat and high in fiber. Drink liquid food supplements. This will help you avoid losing weight if your throat becomes sore during treatment.
- Do not use any type of tobacco.
- Do not drink alcohol.
- Complete the full course of surgery, radiation, or chemotherapy treatments your healthcare provider orders.
- Keep all follow-up appointments with us for surveillance of cancer recurrence.
- Maintain a hopeful and positive outlook throughout your treatment and recovery.
- Exercise regularly and follow good health practices.
What can be done to help prevent cancer of the larynx from spreading or recurring?
You may be able to reduce the risk of spread or recurrence of cancer of the larynx by:
- Completing the full course of surgery, radiation, or chemotherapy treatments
- Not using any tobacco products
- Avoiding heavy use of alcohol
- Seeing us right away if your voice changes, you notice a return of any previous symptoms, or you develop new symptoms.