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.
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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.
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 may increase your chances of aryngeal cancer:
- Smoking—the most common high-risk behavior
- Excessive alcohol use
- Occupational exposure to certain air pollutants such as wood dust, chemicals, and asbestos
- Gastroesophageal reflux (GERD)—chronic condition marked by stomach acid that backs up into the esophagus and throat where it may come in contact with the larynx
- Weakened immune system
- Laryngeal dysplasia—a precancerous condition
Laryngeal cancer may cause:
- Persistent cough, hoarseness, or sore throat
- Abnormal lump in the throat or neck
- Difficulty swallowing
- Pain when swallowing
- Frequent choking on food
- Difficulty breathing
- Noisy breathing
- Persistent ear pain or an unusual ear fullness or sensation in and around the skin of the ear
- Unplanned, significant weight loss
- Persistent bad breath
- Coughing blood
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:
- CT scan
- MRI scan
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 depends on the stage of the cancer, and the size and location of the tumor. A combination of therapies may work best.
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:
- Drinking alcohol in moderation. Moderate drinking is a maximum of 2 drinks per day for men and a maximum of 1 drink per day for women.
- Protecting yourself from toxic exposures that have been linked to laryngeal cancer.
- Get or maintain GERD treatment.