Laryngeal cancer is a malignant tumor affecting the voicebox. Early signs may include gradual onset of persistent voice change. Patients may also complain of difficulty breathing, may cough up blood, or experience ear pain or weight loss. Smoking and alcohol intake are notable risk factors.
The diagnosis is made by taking a complete history and carefully examining the vocal cords either by flexible laryngoscopy (a flexible camera placed through the nose) or a videostroboscopy (a flexible or rigid exam of the vocal cords which allows for examination of the vocal fold mucosal wave). A biopsy is important for making the final diagnosis. Management varies based on the size of the lesion and its location. Imaging of the neck or chest may be required before making a final treatment decision.
Early stage laryngeal cancer can often times be treated with surgery alone. More advanced tumors, however, may require radiation, chemotherapy, surgery, or a combination of all three.
Surveillance of the larynx is important to ensure that the cancer does not recur, and routine exams are performed following any type of treatment. Patients are not considered “cured” until five years have passed without evidence of recurrence following completion of treatment.