Throat Cancer Types Larynx

Cancer of the larynx refers to a type of cancer that affects the vocal cords. Caught in its earliest stages, larynx cancer can be cured in 90 percent of cases. However, if the cancer has metastasized (spread) to other areas of the body, the disease is incurable.

The Larynx

The larynx, or vocal cords, is a 2-inch long organ just above the windpipe, or trachea. Two bands of muscle in the larynx form the vocal cords. The larynx itself is divided into three areas:

  • the glottis, the location of the vocal cords
  • the subglottis, the area that connects the larynx to the windpipe
  • the supraglottis, the top third of the larynx.

The larynx affects how we breathe, swallow and talk. While the vocal cords open when we breathe and vibrate when we talk, when we swallow, a flap at the top of the larynx (the epiglottis) closes the larynx so food doesn’t enter the lungs.

Larynx Cancer Risk Factors

Although the exact cause of larynx cancer is unknown, certain factors increase the risk of developing cancer of the larynx, including:

  • age: While larynx cancer can strike at any age, it is most often diagnosed in people over the age of 50.
  • ethnicity: Cancer of the larynx is more common in Africa-Americans than in other ethnic groups.
  • gender: Men are four to 10 times more likely to develop larynx cancer than women.
  • lifestyle: Both smoking and excessive alcohol use increase the risk of larynx cancer. The risk becomes even higher if a person both smokes and drinks heavily.Similarly, people who work with asbestos, sulfuric acid or nickel have a greater than normal risk of developing cancer of the larynx. As a result, if you have an occupation that continually exposes you to these carcinogenic materials, be sure to follow all safety precautions to lower their risk of exposure.
  • medical history: A previous history of head or neck cancer greatly increases the risk of larynx cancer. Some studies also suggest that gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, increases the risk of larynx cancer.

Cancer of the Larynx Symptoms

Symptoms of cancer of the larynx vary from individual to individual, depending on the size of the tumor and its position. Common symptoms associated with larynx cancer include:

  • a lump in the neck
  • breathing difficulties
  • changes in voice
  • chronic cough
  • earaches
  • feeling as if something is stuck in the throat
  • halitosis (bad breath)
  • hoarseness
  • sore throat
  • unexplained weight loss.

Treating Larynx Cancer

Cancer of the larynx may be treated with any combination of chemotherapy, radiation and/or surgery. Chemotherapy uses systemic drugs to kill cancer cells. When treating larynx cancer, chemotherapy may be used to shrink the tumor prior to surgery or radiation therapy. Chemo may also be used after surgery to kill any remaining cancer cells. In combination with radiation therapy, chemotherapy is sometimes a viable alternative to surgery.

Radiation therapy uses high-energy radio waves to kill cancer cells. Unlike chemotherapy, which affects the entire body, radiation therapy only targets the tumor and surrounding tissue. While radiation therapy alone can treat some cases of larynx cancer, it can also be used in combination with surgery or chemotherapy.

Surgical treatment larynx cancer removes the tumor and surrounding tissue. There are four surgical options for larynx cancer:

  • A cordectomy removes either one or both of the vocal cords.
  • A partial laryngectomy removes part of the larynx.
  • A supraglottic laryngectomy removes the top of the larynx.
  • A total laryngectomy removes the entire larynx.

Surgery is often followed up with radiation therapy or chemotherapy to kill cancer cells that may have escaped the surgeon.

An Artificial Larynx

Surgical treatment of larynx cancer may rob the patient of his or her speech. Several types of artificial larynx are available to restore speech to larynx cancer patients.

In the case of a total laryngectomy, the surgeon may replace the vocal cords with an artificial larynx. If this is not an option, an artificial larynx called an electrolarynx may be used. The electrolarynx is a small device that hums. When pressed against the throat it creates vibrations that substitute for the vocal cords.

Other varieties of artificial larynx can be worn in the mouth or built into dentures or a retainer. The patient may require an artificial larynx permanently or temporarily while working with a speech therapist to learn new ways to produce sound.

Resources

MedicineNet. (2003). Larynx cancer. Retrieved June 18, 2007 from the MedicineNet Web site: www.medicinenet.com/larynx_cancer/article.htm.

U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2006). Cancer: Throat or larynx. Retrieved June 18, 2007 from the U.S. National Library of Medicine Web site: www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/001042.htm.