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Laryngeal Cancer

(Cancer of the Larynx; Cancer of the Voicebox )

Definition

Laryngeal cancer is a disease in which cancer cells grow in the larynx. The larynx is a tube-shaped organ inside the neck that lies between the throat and the windpipe. Its main function is to produce sound for speaking.
The Larynx
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Causes

Cancer occurs when cells in the body divide without control or order. Normally, cells divide in a regulated manner. If cells keep dividing uncontrollably when new cells are not needed, a mass of tissue forms, called a growth or tumor. The term cancer refers to malignant growths. These growths can invade nearby tissues. Cancer that has invaded nearby tissues can then spread to other parts of the body.
It is not clear exactly what causes these problems in the cells, but it is probably a combination of genetics and environment.

Risk Factors

Laryngeal cancer is more common in men, and in people over 55 years old. It is also more common in African Americans. Other factors that increase your chance of getting laryngeal cancer include:

Symptoms

Laryngeal cancer may cause:

Diagnosis

Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.
Your bodily tissue may need to be tested. This can be done with biopsy.
Imaging tests evaluate the larynx and other structures. These may include:
The physical exam, combined with all of your test results, will help to determine the type and stage of cancer you have. Staging is used to guide your treatment plan. Like other cancers, laryngeal cancer is staged from I-IV. Stage I is a very localized cancer, while stage IV indicates a spread to other parts of the body

Treatment

Treatment depends on the stage of the cancer, and the size and location of the tumor. A combination of therapies may work best.
Treatment includes:

Surgery

Surgery requires removal of a cancerous tumor and nearby tissue, and possibly nearby lymph nodes. Surgeries for laryngeal cancer include:
  • Total laryngectomy—This involves the removal of the larynx, including the vocal cords.
  • Partial laryngectomy—In this procedure, the surgeon removes the cancerous tissue while leaving as much of the vocal cords as possible.
  • Tracheotomy—To help with breathing, a hole is made in the neck below the larynx. This may be temporarily necessary after surgery, or permanently placed in the case of laryngeal tumors that are too large to be removed.
  • Neck dissection—This involves the removal of the lymph nodes and part of the neck muscles to determine the spread of cancer.

Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy is the use of radiation to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. This may be external radiation therapy, where the beam is directed at the tumor from a source outside the body.

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to kill cancer cells. This form of treatment may be given in many forms including pill, injection, and catheter. The drugs enter the bloodstream and travel through the body killing mostly cancer cells, but also some healthy cells. Chemotherapy may be used to reduce the size of a particularly large cancer.

Prevention

Since laryngeal cancer is extremely rare in nonsmokers, the best way to prevent this type of cancer is by not smoking. Other measures you can take to reduce your risk of laryngeal cancer include:

RESOURCES

American Cancer Society http://www.cancer.org

National Cancer Institute http://www.cancer.gov

CANADIAN RESOURCES

BC Cancer Agency http://www.bccancer.bc.ca

Canadian Cancer Society http://www.cancer.ca

References

Berkow R. The Merck Manual of Medical Information. New York, NY: Pocket; 2000.

Head and neck cancer. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated June 13, 2014. Accessed August 14, 2014.

Laryngeal and hypopharyngeal cancer. American Cancer Society website. Available at: http://www.cancer.org/acs/groups/cid/documents/webcontent/003108-pdf.pdf. Accessed August 14, 2014.

Laryngeal cancer treatment—for health professionals (PDQ). National Cancer Institute website. Available at: http://www.cancer.gov/types/head-and-neck/hp/laryngeal-treatment-pdq. Updated July 31, 2014. Accessed August 14, 2014.

2/3/2012 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed: Weller MD, Nankivell PC, McConkey C, Paleri V, Mehanna HM. The risk and interval to malignancy of patients with laryngeal dysplasia; a systematic review of case series and meta-analysis. Clin Otolaryngol. 2010;35(5):364-372.

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