Laryngeal Cancer

What is laryngeal cancer?

Laryngeal cancer, otherwise recognised as cancer of the larynx or voice box, is an uncommon form of cancer. The larynx is the lump in the throat commonly known as the Adam's apple. Laryngeal cancer is much more common in men than women and tends to influence people over the age of 40. Around 1700 new cases of laryngeal cancer are diagnosed in England every year and 75 percent of people affected by the disease are aged over 60.

What are the causes of laryngeal cancer?

The exact cause of laryngeal cancer is unknown, but certain dangers have been identified that increase the risk of developing the disease. Risk factors include:

  • Smoking: smoking increases the risk of many different forms of cancer and it is the main risk factor for laryngeal cancer
  • Drinking heavily or for a prolonged basis: if you smoke and drink your risk is considerably higher
  • Family history of head and neck cancer
  • Exposure to the HPV (human papilloma virus)
  • Environmental factors
  • A poor diet

Symptoms of laryngeal cancer

Symptoms of laryngeal cancer are as follows:

  • Hoarseness: if you feel hoarse for more than 3 weeks you should see your GP
  • Complexity in swallowing
  • Feeling like you have a lump in your throat
  • Coughing
  • Weight loss
  • A persistent earache (this is rare)

Many of the symptoms are synonymous with mild health conditions, but if your symptoms persist you should see your GP.

How is laryngeal cancer diagnosed?

Your GP will query you about your symptoms and they will examine you. If they suspect that you may have cancer of the larynx they will get you in contact with a specialist for further tests. Tests performed at the hospital may include an endoscopy, a nasendoscopy, a fine needle aspiration or a transnasal oesophagoscopy.

Which treatments are available for laryngeal cancer?

The main treatment for laryngeal cancer is surgery to remove the cancerous tissue from the larynx. Radiotherapy and chemotherapy may also be used to increase the success of the surgery.

What is the outlook for laryngeal cancer?

The outlook for laryngeal cancer, like many other forms of cancer, depends heavily on the stage of cancer. If laryngeal cancer is diagnosed early the outlook is positive, however, if the cancer is more advanced the outlook is less favourable.

Living with laryngeal cancer

Being diagnosed with laryngeal cancer can be very traumatic and you can experience an assortment of emotions. When you are diagnosed with cancer you will be referred to a specialist care team, who will cater for all aspects of your care. However, should you need any additional advice, support or simply want to talk to somebody, one of the UK's cancer charities will be glad to help.

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