What is Voice Box (Laryngeal) Cancer?

The larynx is a small, triangle-shaped opening, beneath the pharynx in the neck. It is comprised of 3 major parts, the glottis (middle portion that contains the vocal cords), the subglottis (beneath the glottis), and supraglottis (tissue above the glottis). When malignant cancer cells grow and spread in the voice box, it is called laryngeal cancer. If left untreated, voice box cancer can spread to other parts of your body.

Causes of Voice Box (Laryngeal) Cancer

When normal healthy cells in your voice box are damaged, they can start to overgrow, resulting in malignant tumors forming in your voice box. The most common causes and lifestyle factors that result in damage to the cells within your voice box can include the following:

  • Frequent smoking of tobacco products
  • Poor nutritional diet or consuming excessive processed foods
  • Heavy consumption of alcoholic beverages
  • Genetic conditions or diseases
  • Exposure to toxins or harmful chemicals
  • Human papillomavirus (HPV)
  • Immunodeficiency conditions
  • Genetic predisposition (family history) to types of throat cancer

Symptoms and Diagnosis of Voice Box (Laryngeal) Cancer

The following are common symptoms experienced with voice box cancer:

  • Chronic or recurrent cough
  • Sore throat
  • Hoarse voice
  • Development of a lump or swelling in or around the throat or neck
  • Swallowing difficulty or pain experienced when swallowing
  • Choking or gagging on food regularly
  • Loud or difficult breathing
  • Foul smelling breath
  • Coughing up blood
  • Pain in the ears
  • Abrupt or sudden weight loss

Your ENT specialist will usually diagnose voice box cancer by reviewing your family and medical history, through a physical examination, and performing multiple tests. The physical examination will include using a light or lighted mirror to examine your voice box and throat area. If abnormalities or signs of cancer are present, a biopsy may be performed that will be analyzed in a lab. CT scans an MRI can help to confirm whether the cancer has spread to other parts of the body.

Treatments for Voice Box (Laryngeal) Cancer

Treatment for voice box cancer will normally be determined by, or with the help of an oncologist. Treatment will become more complicated if the cancer has spread to other portions of the body. Surgery is a common method to remove existing tumors. Radiation therapy may also be a method used to kill off remaining cancer cells that were not removed during surgery, or if the tumor is small and caught in early stages. Another type of treatment that may be used to help treat your voice box cancer is chemotherapy.


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