The larynx, an organ located in the neck at the top of the trachea, is involved in breathing, swallowing and talking. Any of the different parts of the larynx, like the vocal cords, glottis, supraglottis, sunglottis, can be affected by cancer.
Cancer is an uncontrolled cell division process that leads to the formation of tumors in the body. Depending on the aggressiveness of the cancer, tumors can be localized and contained within the larynx or they can spread throughout the body in a process called metastasis. When a larynx cancer metastasizes or spreads to other places of the body, like the lymph nodes, then the patient has a metastatic laryngeal cancer
Risk Factors for Laryngeal Cancer
Although age, race and gender may be risk factors for cancer of the larynx, external environmental factors seem to be a key factor in the development of this disease. Smoking and the consumption of alcohol are also risk factors associated with laryngeal cancer, and the combination of smoking and alcohol ingestion increases the risk dramatically. Certain occupations are risk factors for developing the disease, especially those that involve exposure to nickel, sulfuric acid or asbestos.
Sign, Symptoms, and Diagnosis
Symptoms of cancer of the larynx include the following:
- Hoarseness or other voice changes
- A lump in the neck
- A sore throat
- A cough that does not go away
- Breathing problems
- Bad breath
- Weight loss
These symptoms can be caused by many other type of cancers and even some non-cancerous diseases. An adequate diagnosis is needed for proper treatment. Palpation of the neck and larynx may expose tumors, including a lump on the neck, larynx or softening of the tissues. A more specialized exam will involve an examination of the inner cavity of the larynx with a special angled mirror or using a procedure in which a thin fibre-optic is inserted through the nose to examine the larynx and the pharynx. Chest C-ray, CT and/or MRI scans and tissue biopsy are used for appropriate metastatic laryngeal cancer diagnosis.
Metastatic cancer of the larynx can be treated with three methods: surgery, chemotherapy, radiation or a combination of them. In radiation treatments, localized small tumors are bombarded with high-energy radiation beans to kill cancer cells. With chemotherapy, drugs are used to kill the cancerous cells. Chemotherapy is more appropriate for metastatic cancers since it kills cancer cells and prevents cancer development in other parts of the body. Surgical procedures involve the removal of different parts of the larynx (procedures collectively called laryngectomy). Depending of the location the surgical procedure may remove vocal cords (cordectomy), or may involve partial (hemilaryngectomy) or total removal of the larynx (total laryngectomy). Surgeons may also opt to remove the lymph nodes if the cancer has spread.
Harrison LB et al. (2008). Head and Neck Cancer. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins
The NCI’s Cancer.gov Web site: www.cancer.gov/