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types of cancer

Laryngeal cancer

Overview

Laryngeal cancer is a type of cancer that affects the tissues of the larynx (area of the throat that contains the vocal cords and is used for breathing, swallowing, and talking). Most laryngeal cancers are squamous cell carcinomas (cancer that begins in flat cells lining the larynx). Larynx cancers are often diagnosed in their advanced stages as their symptoms are similar to that of less-serious health conditions.

Types of laryngeal cancer, apart from squamous cell carcinoma and adenocarcinoma, include lymphoepithelioma, spindle cell carcinoma, verrucous cancer, undifferentiated carcinoma and cancers of the lymph nodes, which are called lymphomas.

Symptoms

Symptoms of laryngeal cancer are often mistaken for other conditions. In case any of the below-mentioned symptoms are experienced, it has to be discussed with the doctor, immediately.

  • Persistent sore throat or cough
  • Hoarseness in the voice for more than two weeks
  • Pain and swallowing difficulties
  • Lump in the neck or throat
  • Dysphonia (having trouble making voice sounds)
  • Ear pain
  • Trouble breathing (dyspnea)
  • Noisy and high-pitched breathing
  • A feeling of fullness in the throat
  • Coughing up blood (haemoptysis)

Some may also experience breathlessness, bad breath, and unexplained weight loss.

Causes

Although the exact causes for laryngeal cancer are unknown, it has been found that certain lifestyle factors increase an individual’s risk of developing this cancer.

  • Tobacco and Alcohol Consumption: Like all other head and neck cancers, the risk of developing laryngeal cancer also develops with increased tobacco (smoking and chewing) and alcohol consumption.
  • Processed Foods: Consumption of processed foods in large quantities for a long time also increases the risk of laryngeal cancer development.
  • Poor Diet: Not consuming enough fruits and vegetables is reported to increase the risk of this cancer.
  • Exposure to Hazardous Chemicals: The chances of developing laryngeal cancer are high among those who have prolonged exposure to harmful chemical substances like asbestos and coal dust.
  • Family History: Those with a family history of head and neck cancers have a higher risk of developing laryngeal cancer.

Diagnosis

The diagnostic method recommended by doctors depends on the symptoms experienced by the patients. If they are any or a few of the previously discussed symptoms, then the doctor may suggest a laryngoscopy; whereas, a biopsy is recommended if a lump is visible in the throat or neck region.

Nasendoscopy/ Laryngoscopy: It involves insertion of an endoscopy through nose or mouth. This procedure allows the larynx to be seen in greater detail. If the doctor sees anything abnormal, he/she may recommend further tests.

Biopsy: This is a procedure, wherein a small sample of the tissue is collected and examined for the signs of cancer.

Imaging Tests: Imaging tests like MRI scan, CT and PET scan are necessary to determine the exact location, size and the stage of the tumour. These imaging modalities also help in analysing the treatment response during and after the treatment.

Treatment

The main treatment modalities recommended for laryngeal cancer include radiation therapy, surgery and chemotherapy.

Radiation therapy: Radiation therapy removes the cancerous cells from the larynx by delivering radiation to it. If diagnosed early, laryngeal cancers can be treated successfully through radiation therapy and surgery.

Surgery: Surgery is recommended both in the early and advanced stages of the cancer. In the early stages, surgery is used to remove small tumours, with a radiation therapy session possibly following behind. However, if the cancer is advanced, the surgery is used to remove a part or all of the larynx and if it has spread to the lymph nodes, those lymph nodes are removed too. When the larynx is removed, the patient is no longer able to speak or breathe normally. He/she will have to breathe through a permanent hole in the neck (stoma) and the patient will need additional treatment to help restore his/her voice. It could be an implant in the throat or an electrical device that the patient has to hold against his/her throat to produce sound.

Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy uses a combination of drugs to destroy the cancer cells, and it is often used along with surgery and radiation therapy. The chemo drugs are either administered orally or intravenously, which then travel throughout the body to kill the cancer cells. Chemotherapy might also be used by the doctors to have the tumour size reduced.

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