In a previous article, we have discussed what laryngeal cancer is.
In addition, we have talked about its symptoms, its causes, and its prognosis.
But how do you know if you have laryngeal cancer?
And can it still be treated?
This article will answer these questions.
How Is Laryngeal Cancer Diagnosed?
If the signs and symptoms you’re experiencing are suspicious, your doctor might subject you to an ENT (ear, nose, and throat).
The ENT specialist will then take a closer look and examine your throat by using a flexible scope that has a tiny camera at the end.
The procedure is referred to as endoscopy.
The scope will be inserted into your nostrils until it reaches down the hind part of your throat.
The camera at the end of the scope will transmit images into a screen.
Your specialist will watch over the screen and observe any signs of abnormality inside your throat.
Another procedure that ENT specialists use is the laryngoscopy.
They will use a similar scope that has a magnifying lens attached to it.
The scope will be inserted into your voice box and the lens will be responsible for zooming in on your vocal cords.
The specialist will check if your vocal cords show any signs of abnormality.
If the examination results show abnormalities inside your throat and larynx, the procedures will typically be followed by a biopsy.
A biopsy is a procedure wherein a small tissue is grabbed from an organ using a thin and flexible instrument.
The tissue will be used as a sample and will be submitted to a laboratory for evaluation.
The tissue sample is then observed under a microscope.
If abnormal cells are found inside the tissue, then you’ll most likely be diagnosed with laryngeal cancer.
Once the diagnosis is out and it came out positive, the specialist in charge may also examine the other organs near your throat like the trachea and esophagus.
This is done in order to assess the extent of the cancer cells.
Once you are officially diagnosed with laryngeal cancer, more tests and procedures will follow.
In the previous article, we’ve already mentioned the system used to stage cancer which is the TNM (tumor, node, metastases) system.
In addition to that, other tests like MRI and CT scan may also be conducted to ascertain the stage of your cancer.
Grades of Laryngeal Cancer
When the tissue sample obtained through biopsy is scrutinized under the microscope, the medical experts look at the sample’s cancer cells very carefully.
The features of the cells will indicate your cancer’s grade level.
The typical grading system of throat cancer ranges from grades 1-3.
- 1 (low grade) – Cancer cells in your system are well-differentiated, meaning they hardly show abnormal features and are very close to what normal cells look like. The cells do not grow and increase rapidly.
- 2 (intermediate grade) – Cancer cells in your system are undifferentiated. They increase faster than grade 1 cancer cells.
- 3 (high grade) – Cancer cells in your system are poorly differentiated. The cancer cells in the 3rd stage are most aggressive. They grow in size and increase rapidly.
Determining your cancer grade helps the medical professionals to choose the right and best treatment option/s.
It also helps them provide a reasonable prognosis regarding your current condition.
How Is Laryngeal Cancer Treated?
The treatment options rely on a lot of factors including:
- your cancer stage
- the location of the tumor
- the type of cancer cells you have
- the extent of the cancer cells
- your general health condition
You will have to fully discuss with your doctor first the to determine which one will fit you best.
Your doctor will explain all the details you need to know regarding the treatment procedures.
He will lay out the pros, cons, potential side effects, and probable success rate of each treatment option.
Another detail your doctor will discuss with you is the aim of each treatment.
For example, in most cases, the chosen treatment option aims to totally cure the cancer.
If the cancer is diagnosed at an early stage, there’s a good chance of getting cured, or as doctors would like to call it, “in remission.”
Remission refers to cases that show no trace of cancer after undergoing treatment.
If the doctor says you’re in remission, chances are you’re going to be totally cured.
However, in other reported cases, the cancer returns after months or years.
This is the reason why doctors typically use the term “remission” rather than “cure.”
Some treatment options only aim to manage the cancer.
For cases that are unlikely to be cured, patients will receive a treatment option that will control the growth of cancer.
These kinds of treatments will help prevent the cancer cells from multiplying rapidly and help the patient ease his/her cancer symptoms for a period of time.
The treatment options for laryngeal cancer include the following:
This is a treatment wherein drugs are used to eradicate the cancer cells.
For throat cancers, chemotherapy is typically done in combination with radiotherapy.
It can also be an alternative to patients who don’t want to undergo surgery.
Chemotherapy aims to save the larynx and your voice.
Radiotherapy, or radiation therapy, is usually the treatment advised by doctors for patients with early stages of cancer.
This is a treatment wherein high-energy beams are used to deliver radiation to cancer cells.
The radiation from the beams can either prevent the cancer cells from increasing or totally eradicate the cancer cells.
In some cases, radiotherapy is used in combination with other treatments.
Usually, it is executed after surgery to kill the remaining cancer cells.
For some laryngeal cancer patients, the tumors have become big and already require surgery.
A surgery can cure cancer by removing all the cancerous cells and tumors.
However, it is only likely to happen if the cancer is at an early stage.
Surgeries differ depending on the size and location of the tumor and cancer cells.
The surgeries for laryngeal cancer include:
- Endoscopic Resection – This surgery is done to remove or burn a small tumor located inside the larynx. An endoscopic resection can only be done when a tumor is small and hasn’t spread to a nearby organ.
- Laryngectomy (partial) – A partial laryngectomy is a procedure wherein the part of your larynx that’s affected by cancer will be removed. The doctors will leave out as much of the larynx and save your voice as much as possible.
- Laryngectomy (total) – Total laryngectomies are done to remove bigger and more extensive tumors. The procedure will involve the removal of your entire larynx. Your trachea will be attached to a hole in front of your neck to enable breathing. This surgery will leave you with a permanent hole in your neck. Since your entire larynx has been removed, you may not be able to speak again. There are, however, techniques that you may learn from a speech therapist to help you communicate.
If your cancer has affected other nearby organs, the doctors in charge may conduct additional surgeries that will involve removing the other affected organs.