The larynx, or voice box, is a part of the throat between the very back of the tongue and the windpipe. The larynx contains a number of sub-structures, including the vocal cords, which vibrate and make sound when air is directed through them. The hypopharynx is an area of the throat that surrounds the larynx and forms a funnel that leads into the esophagus. The most common type of cancer that develops in these regions is called squamous cell carcinoma.

Larynx Anatomy Diagram

Studies have shown that head and neck cancer treatment by a multidisciplinary team of experts at a high volume medical center leads to significantly improved outcomes

Risk Factors

  • Tobacco use of any kind, including cigarettes, chewing tobacco, cigars, pipes and snuff
  • Heavy alcohol use
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • Diet low in fruits and vegetables
  • Human papilloma virus infection
  • Certain environmental or workplace exposures

Symptoms

  • Voice changes/hoarseness
  • Trouble or pain with swallowing
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Noisy breathing
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Spitting or coughing up blood
  • Ear pain
  • Weight loss

If you have any of these symptoms for more than two weeks, be sure to make an appointment with your doctor or dentist. Early detection of laryngeal and hypopharyngeal cancers is critical for your best possible outcome.

Diagnosis

As part of the initial visit, the following tests may be used to detect, diagnose and/or stage a laryngeal or hypopharygeal cancer:

  • Discussion of current symptoms, past medical history and health habits Physical examination: an exam to check the throat and neck for abnormal areas
  • Endoscopy: a flexible scope placed through the nose to visualize the voice box and throat
  • Imaging: May include ultrasound, CT scan, MRI and/or a PET scan
  • Biopsy: Sampling of the suspicious lesion/mass to definitively diagnose the type of tumor; often needs to be done in the operating room with an outpatient procedure.

Larynx Cancer Treatment

Our team of experts always strives for a cure, but we also aim to preserve a patient’s function. The larynx and hypopharynx serve vital roles in breathing, speech and swallowing. We offer treatments that are tailored to each individual patient’s needs and preferences.

Various treatment options can often provide equivalent curative results, allowing patients to work closely with their doctor to choose the option that is best for them. These treatments may include radiation therapy with or without chemotherapy, as well as surgery. Directed and focused nonsurgical treatments are used to preserve function without causing damage to the voicebox. Minimally invasive surgical options are offered whenever possible and include the use of lasers and/or robots to remove the tumor, while preserving remaining tissues.

We work closely with all laryngeal cancer patients to provide complete information about their treatment options so they can make the most informed decision possible. This often includes pretreatment consultations with speech and swallowing experts to ensure that functional outcomes can be maximized after treatment.

After-Treatment Care

Not only do patients receive pre-treatment counseling and education from our speech pathology experts, but following treatment, the Clinical Cancer Center’s team of speech-language pathologists also provides patients with individualized, best-practice therapy and rehabilitation. A variety of techniques and rehabilitation options help patients recover with excellent outcomes, including breathing, speech, and swallowing. Additionally, patients have access to the complete menu of patient support resources available through the Clinical Cancer Center.

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