Cancer of the Larynx
The larynx, also known as the voice box, is located in the front of the neck and controls the opening and closing of the windpipe. Patients with laryngeal cancer may experience hoarseness, a lump in the neck, a cough, difficulty breathing, earache, difficulty swallowing and weight loss, among other symptoms. Common risk factors for laryngeal cancer include:
- Patients over the age of 55
- African American
- Consumer excessive amounts of alcohol
- Have a family history of head or neck cancer
- Have been exposed to HPV
Surgical treatment for laryngeal cancer is complicated and often life changing. In some cases removal of part or all of the larynx through an open procedure such as a partial or total laryngectomy is performed. If the cancer has spread from the larynx, the lymph nodes or other nearby structures may be removed as well. Radiation and chemotherapy are also commonly performed to treat laryngeal tumors, and may be used alone or in combination with surgery. A personalized, multidisciplinary treatment will be developed based on a thorough evaluation of each patient’s individual condition.
Cancer of the Larynx Treatments
Two of the key weapons in the fight against cancer, chemotherapy and radiation both set out to kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy uses drugs that target rapidly dividing cells, a key feature of cancerous tissue. In addition to cancer cells, there are fast-dividing normal cells in the body, such as in hair follicles and the digestive system. The active chemotherapy medicines – called cytotoxic, anti-neoplastic drugs – can’t distinguish between rapidly dividing cells, resulting in many of the side effects that are common to treatment. Radiation treatment, also known as radiotherapy, kills cancer cells by damaging the DNA of the tumor tissue. Radiation passes through the body to be absorbed by a tumor, causing the damage that kills the cancer cells. Different types of radiotherapy match the different types of tumors, so there are options for treatment that minimize damage to healthy tissue through precise targeting. This limits side effects to the treatment locations, though radiotherapy also causes fatigue as an overall effect.
If non-surgical treatments aren’t successful, cancer of the larynx calls for complete or partial removal of the larynx. In some cases, radiation treatment can induce radiation necrosis, which may also require laryngectomy. The larynx connects the lungs with the nose and the mouth for breathing, while also keeping food in the esophagus and out of the lungs. A laryngectomy therefore affects breathing, speech, and swallowing. When the larynx is removed, there’s no longer a connection between the lungs and the nose and mouth. A complete laryngectomy results in a surgical hole, or stoma, in the throat to permit breathing.