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What Is Laryngeal Cancer?

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  • Written By: Jane Lapham
  • Edited By: S. Pike
  • Last Modified Date: 06 November 2016
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Laryngeal cancer is cancer of the larynx, an anatomical structure located in the throat and commonly referred to as the voice box. Risk factors for laryngeal cancer include smoking and heavy alcohol consumption. Symptoms of the disease may include a persistent sore throat and coughing up blood. Treatment involves attempts to ensure the cancer does not spread to other areas of the body. Laryngeal cancer can also be referred to as laryngeal carcinoma, larynx cancer, or cancer of the larynx.

Most laryngeal cancers are squamous cell carcinomas, or cancer of the thin epithelial lining of the throat. Cancer can develop in any area of the larynx, but the most common location of a laryngeal cancer is on the vocal cords or in the area directly adjacent to the vocal cords. The vocal cords are one of the main anatomical structures involved in the production of speech sounds, and they are located directly behind the prominence in the neck commonly referred to as the Adam's apple.

When a person develops cancer, it is impossible for doctors to identify a single cause for the disease. Statistical studies, however, have made it possible to identify risk factors that may increase a person's chances of developing laryngeal cancer. The biggest identifiable risk factors are smoking and heavy alcohol consumption. Other less obvious factors include gastric reflux, poor eating habits, and frequent or prolonged exposure to carcinogenic chemicals or fumes.

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Symptoms of laryngeal cancer include abnormal breathing sounds, a persistent cough, difficulty swallowing, swelling or lumps in the neck, coughing up blood, a persistent sore throat, and hoarseness of voice that does not subside in one to two weeks. Unexpected weight loss or a prolonged earache may also be signs of the disease. An individual who is exhibiting these symptoms will most likely be advised to undergo an laryngoscopy, which is a procedure in which a throat doctor, or laryngologist, will view the inside of the throat with a special piece of equipment called an endoscope. In some cases, the laryngologist may also cut out a small piece of tissue during the laryngoscopy to later be tested in a lab. This is called a biopsy.

Treatment for laryngeal cancer will involve attempts to completely remove the cancer in order to prevent metastasis, or moving to other parts of the body. If the cancer is identified while it is still small, a doctor may advise surgery to remove the tumor or radiation therapy to shrink it. If the cancer is advanced, the individual may be advised to undergo a laryngectomy. Laryngectomy is the surgical removal of the larynx, which entails the removal of the vocal cords and the surgical creation of new breathing airway. Individuals who undergo a laryngectomy require extensive speech therapy following the procedure.

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