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Laryngeal Cancer (Cancer of the Larynx)

What is laryngeal cancer?

Laryngeal cancer includes cancerous cells found in any part of the larynx – the glottis, the supraglottis, or the subglottis.

The larynx, often referred to as the voice box, is a two-inch long tube-shaped organ located in the neck at the top of the trachea (windpipe). The cartilage in front of the larynx is sometimes called the “Adam’s apple.”

The vocal cords (or vocal folds) are two bands of muscle that form a “V” shape inside the larynx.

The area of the larynx where the vocal cords are located is called the glottis. The area above the cords is called the supraglottis, and the area below the cords is called the subglottis. The epiglottis is a flap at the top of the trachea that closes over the larynx to protect it from food that is swallowed into the esophagus.

Breath enters the body through the nose or mouth, and then travels to the larynx, trachea, and into the lungs. It exits along the same path. Normally, no sound is made by the vocal cords during breathing or exhaling.

When a person talks, the vocal cords tighten, move closer together, and air from the lungs is forced between them. This makes them vibrate and produces sound.

Approximately 12,290 people are expected to be diagnosed with laryngeal cancer in the US in 2009. Close to 3,660 deaths are expected to occur this year, reports the American Cancer Society. About 2,850 cases of hypopharyngeal cancer are expected in 2009.

What causes laryngeal cancer?

The exact cause of laryngeal cancer is not known; however, there are certain risk factors that may increase a person’s chance of developing cancer.
Risk factors for laryngeal cancer:

Risk factors include:
  • tobacco use
  • alcohol abuse
  • poor nutrition
  • GERD – gastroesophageal reflux disease
  • human papillomavirus
  • weakened immune system
  • gender – laryngeal cancer is more common in men than in women
  • age – average age is 62
  • race – more common in African Americans
Treatment of laryngeal cancer:

Specific treatment for laryngeal cancer will be determined by your physician based on:

  • your age, overall health, and medical history
  • extent of the disease
  • your tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies
  • expectations for the course of the disease
  • your opinion or preference
Treatment may include one, or a combination of, the following:
  • radiation therapy (to kill cancerous cells or keep them from growing)
  • surgery (to remove the cancerous cells or tumor)
  • chemotherapy (to kill cancerous cells)