The larynx is the organ located at the uppermost part of the trachea (windpipe).
This organ is approximately 5 centimeters in length and is often referred to as the “voice box” as it holds the vocal cords responsible for producing sounds and vibrations.
The front of the larynx can be felt at the Adam’s apple.
The larynx has multiple purposes.
It serves as the passageway of air when we inhale.
As air enters the larynx, it passes down into the trachea until it reaches the lungs.
Upon swallowing, the larynx slightly moves upward, causing the epiglottis (the cartilage located behind the tongue) to close down.
This process prevents food and liquid from going down the trachea.
In this article, we will provide an overview of the cancer of the larynx and help you better understand the condition.
Cancer of the Larynx
Cancer of the larynx typically occurs in people over the age of 60.
The most common early sign of larynx cancer is a hoarse voice that doesn’t seem to go away.
Cases that were reported and diagnosed during the early stages of larynx cancer stand good chances of getting their cancers totally cured.
Cancers that have been diagnosed at a stage whereas the cancer cells have already grown and spread across the body generally have smaller chances of being cured.
A lot of people mistake laryngeal cancer as throat cancer.
However, aside from the larynx, the throat also has other nearby organs such as the pharynx, trachea, esophagus, thyroid, etc.
The term “throat cancer” is much more extensive as it can also mean cancer in the other tissues of the nearby organs.
Whereas “laryngeal cancer” only pertains to a specific kind of cancer that occurs inside the tissues of the larynx.
As previously mentioned, people aged 60 or above are more likely to develop this cancer.
On the other hand, people under the age of 40 are least likely to develop laryngeal cancer.
Studies suggest that men are four times more vulnerable to getting laryngeal cancer than women.
Types of Laryngeal Cancer
Laryngeal Cancer has different types, including:
- Squamous cell carcinoma. This is the most common form of cancer inside the larynx. This type stems from the cells located at the larynx’s inner lining. Squamous cell carcinoma is often observed in 9 out of 10 cases of laryngeal cancer.
- Adenocarcinoma. This type is less common and observed in laryngeal cancer patients. It stems from the cells inside the tiny glands of the laryngeal walls.
And other rare types which include:
- Verrucous Cancer
- And different types of Carcinoma
Signs and Symptoms of Laryngeal Cancer
Generally, signs and symptoms of laryngeal cancer vary from person to person.
Not all patients who suffer this condition display the same symptoms, but they are likely to experience a hoarse voice.
The most common symptom is voice hoarseness, this is because most of the time, cancer of the larynx begin to develop within the vocal cords.
However, hoarseness is a very common symptom of various diseases.
If it persists for more than two weeks, it’s best to visit a doctor and ask for a diagnosis.
People with laryngeal cancer are likely to exude at least two to three of the following symptoms:
- Voice hoarseness
- Persistent coughing
- A sore throat that doesn’t seem to go away
- Trouble swallowing food, sometimes even painful
- Losing weight even without trying
- Throbbing pain in the ear; and if the cancer cells have already spread
- Swelling and small lumps in the neck area
If you have been experiencing the symptoms listed above for more than a week or two, immediately seek medical help.
What Are the Risk Factors?
All cancers start from one cancer cell.
Researchers are yet to find out the exact reason why healthy cells turn into cancerous cells.
But theories suggest that once cells receive damage or any type of gene modification, the cells become abnormal and start to uncontrollably multiply.
Risk factor pertains to anything, a habit or even a diet, that can increase your chances of developing a certain disease.
For throat cancer, the risk factors are heavily related to a person’s lifestyle.
For instance, people who smoke or use tobacco products on a regular basis increase their chances of getting different types of cancer, including laryngeal.
There are risk factors, however, that cannot be prevented.
One example of this is aging
Other risk factors for laryngeal cancer include the following:
- Excessive alcohol intake
- Vitamin A deficiency
- Mineral deficiency
- Poor dental hygiene
- Poor, unhealthy diet
- Exposure to a mineral called “asbestos”
- Exposure to chemicals and pollutants for a long time
- Exposure to HPV viruses, usually acquired by means of oral sex. Exposure to HPV viruses has been directly linked to at least 50% of Squamous Cell Cancer cases.
In addition to these, being male also increases your risk of developing laryngeal cancer.
In determining your cancer stage, medical professionals use the TNM system.
- T – Tumor. First, the doctors determine the size of the tumor and how far does it cover the tissues inside the larynx.
- N – Node. Second, they check node status. This helps determine if the cancer cells have already spread to the lymph nodes.
- M – Metastasis. Lastly, they check if the cancer cells have already spread beyond the throat area.
Laryngeal cancers that are diagnosed and treated during the early stages have good chances of being completely cured.
However, laryngeal cancers that have already spread to other organs nearby have very slim chances of being curable.
Treatment options differ depending on the stage of your cancer.
Some cases may require two treatments at a time.
The different treatments for laryngeal cancer include the following:
- Radiation therapy
- Molecularly targeted therapy
In treating laryngeal cancer, doctors aim to not only kill the cancer cells in your larynx but also save the larynx itself.
Late stages of this cancer may lead to permanent voice loss.
As much as possible, doctors choose non-surgical options so as to save the larynx.
Surgery is only chosen when other available options no longer work.
Cancer treatments are continuously developing and improving.
Day by day, new studies emerge and new treatments are developed.
There may be cases of cancer that do not respond to any of the available treatment options, but specialists and researchers continue to seek treatments that would be responsive to all cases.
For a more detailed guide on diagnosing and treating laryngeal cancer, read this article.