Laryngeal cancer arises in the larynx (voice box). It is the second most common type of head and neck cancer. An estimated 12,000 new cases of laryngeal cancer are diagnosed in the United States each year.
The larynx is located at the top of the trachea (windpipe). It contains two bands of muscle called vocal cords, which vibrate as air passes through them to make speech. The larynx also prevents food from entering the lungs.
Laryngeal Cancer Symptoms
The most common symptoms of laryngeal cancer include:
- a lump in the neck due to an enlarged lymph node
- ear pain
- difficulty swallowing
Laryngeal Cancer Risk Factors
Tobacco and alcohol use — especially the combination of the two — are the most common risk factors for laryngeal cancer.
Additional risk factors include:
- workplace exposure to wood and metal dusts, asbestos, paint fumes, and other chemical inhalants
- a diet low in vitamins A and E
- gastroesophageal reflux disease
- infection with the human papillomavirus (HPV)
People with aplastic anemia, a blood disorder associated with certain hereditary conditions, also have a higher risk of developing laryngeal cancer.
Laryngeal Cancer Treatment
The goals of the treatment of laryngeal cancer are to:
- cure the cancer
- preserve your appearance and voice
- prevent the cancer from coming back
The extent and depth of the cancer guides your plan of care. Treatment may include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or a combination of approaches.
Laryngeal Cancer Surgery
For early-stage cancer, a head and neck surgeon may remove the tumor using an endoscopic approach called transoral laser microsurgery. If laryngeal cancer cannot be easily removed with a minimally invasive procedure, your surgeon may need to perform a traditional open surgery.
At MSK, our surgeons offer unparalleled skill and experience in removing laryngeal cancer. We take innovative approaches to preserve your appearance and the functions of your throat.
Laryngeal Cancer Radiation Therapy
Radiation therapy for cancer of the larynx involves aiming high-energy beams of particles at the tumor. When the particles reach the tumor, they can destroy cancer cells by damaging their DNA.
Radiation is often the primary treatment for people with early-stage laryngeal cancer. Chemotherapy is sometimes given in combination with radiation. This approach is called chemoradiation. It can enhance the effectiveness of your care.
The radiation therapy team at Memorial Sloan Kettering is highly experienced in caring for people with all stages of laryngeal cancer. We work closely with other members of your care team and will customize a treatment plan so precise that it factors in the size and shape of the tumor to the millimeter. Our goal is not only to eliminate cancer cells but also to prevent the side effects of treatment.
Drug Therapies for Advanced Laryngeal Cancer
People with advanced disease may receive drug therapies such as chemotherapy, targeted therapy, or immunotherapy.
At MSK, our medical oncologists (the doctors who treat cancer using drug therapies) work with you to create a customized treatment plan that fits your needs and leads to the best possible outcome for you.
Our medical oncologists bring extraordinary skill to caring for people with advanced laryngeal cancer. We have deep knowledge of the newest clinical trials for laryngeal cancer. These studies may give you access to advanced therapies years before they’re available elsewhere.