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Quick Facts

Laryngeal Cancer


The Manual's Editorial Staff

Last full review/revision May 2020| Content last modified May 2020
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Your larynx is often called your voice box because it holds the vocal cords that help you make sounds. The larynx makes the bump you can see and feel in the middle of your neck. Some people call that bump the "Adam's apple."

What is laryngeal cancer?

Laryngeal cancer is cancer that’s in your larynx.

  • Symptoms include hoarseness in your voice that doesn’t go away, a lump in your neck, and later on breathing and swallowing problems

  • It’s the most common head and neck cancer

  • Laryngeal cancer is more common in men than in women, especially men over 60

  • Smoking and drinking a lot of alcohol raise your chance of getting laryngeal cancer

See a doctor if you’ve had hoarseness that’s lasted for more than 2 to 3 weeks.

Locating the Larynx

Locating the Larynx

What causes laryngeal cancer?

Doctors don’t always know what causes laryngeal cancer, but the biggest risk factor is:

  • Smoking

Nearly everyone who gets laryngeal cancer is, or was, a smoker.

The chance of getting laryngeal cancer is also higher if you:

  • Are a man, especially if you're over 60

  • Drank a lot of alcohol for a long time

What are the symptoms of laryngeal cancer?

The symptoms of laryngeal cancer are:

  • A hoarse voice (or a change in your voice) that doesn’t go away after a few weeks

  • Throat or ear pain

  • A lump in your neck

  • Trouble breathing and swallowing

How can doctors tell if I have laryngeal cancer?

Doctors can tell if you have laryngeal cancer by examining your larynx. They'll put a thin, flexible viewing tube into your mouth.

Doctors may also do a biopsy (remove a sample of your tissue for testing). A biopsy is usually done in an operating room while you're asleep under general anesthesia.

If you have laryngeal cancer, doctors will see if your cancer has spread to other parts of your body by doing tests such as:

How do doctors treat laryngeal cancer?

Treatment depends on how much the cancer has grown and spread.

Doctors treat early-stage cancer with one of the following:

  • Laser microsurgery (using a high energy beam of light to cut out the cancer)

  • Radiation therapy, especially if the cancer is on your vocal cords

These treatments usually don’t affect your voice.

Doctors treat more advanced cancer with a combination of treatments, such as:

  • Surgery plus radiation therapy, if doctors think surgery can remove all the cancer

  • Radiation plus chemotherapy, if doctors think the cancer is too big to remove with surgery—this usually doesn’t cure the cancer but it can shrink the cancer and lessen pain

Side effects of treatment

Almost all treatments for laryngeal cancer have side effects.

Surgery done for advanced cancer sometimes removes all or a large part of your larynx. If your larynx is removed, there are methods to help you speak without vocal cords.

Radiation to your neck may cause:

  • Red, itchy skin

  • Loss of taste

  • Dry mouth

  • Trouble swallowing

  • Dental problems, if your teeth were exposed to radiation

If you have trouble swallowing after treatment, doctors may need to stretch open your esophagus. The esophagus is the food pipe that carries food from your mouth to your stomach.

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