Minor throat irritation is a normal part of life and usually a temporary inconvenience. When that irritation is coupled with persistent hoarseness, shortness of breath, and noticeable and unexplained changes in voice, it may be a sign of laryngeal cancer. The recommended treatment will depend on when the cancer is detected and whether or not it has spread to other parts of the throat. In some cases, minimally invasive surgery may be performed to remove the cancerous tissues
Possible Signs of Laryngeal Cancer
Signs of this type of cancer may be progressive in nature with symptoms that develop slowly over time or become increasingly distracting. The most obvious symptoms noticed by many patients are persistent hoarseness and a change in voice. As the cancer advances, symptoms may also include:
- Shortness of breath
- Difficulty swallowing
- A noticeable “bulge” or mass in the neck
- Ear pain without any other obvious cause
How It’s Diagnosed
The diagnosis of laryngeal cancer starts with a thorough examination of the throat. A laryngoscopy is often performed as an in-office procedure to provide a closer look inside the throat. It’s a test that involves the use of a special tube with a camera attached that will allow the doctor to view the affected part of the throat.
A sample of tissue (biopsy) is often taken so it can be analyzed. If signs of cancer are suspected but not detectable with a laryngoscopy, a CT scan or MRI may be performed to confirm the presence of abnormal tissues in the throat.
How It’s Treated
The treatment of laryngeal cancer will depend on the location and size of the growth. Conservative (non-surgical) treatments may include radiation therapy and chemotherapy. Some patients respond better to a combination of both of these treatments.
A KTP laser or a carbon dioxide laser may be used to surgically treat the tumor through the patient’s mouth. Performed under general anesthesia, the procedure does not usually require any cuts in the throat if the cancer is relegated to the vocal cords.
Larger growths may require surgery through the skin on the throat to reach the affected part of the vocal cord. After the removal of the vocal cord, the basic structure of the cord can be restored to maintain the patient’s voice.
Removal of the Voice Box
If the cancer has advanced or spread throughout the larynx, removal of the voice box may be necessary (laryngectomy). During the procedure, the entire larynx is removed and the throat is reconstructed to allow for normal functioning. There is technology available that can allow patients to produce audible and recognizable speech.
A form of skin cancer called squamous cell cancer is the most common type of laryngeal cancer. The most common risk factors associated with this form of cancer are the use of tobacco products, including cigarettes and chewing tobacco, and excessive alcohol consumption. As with most other forms of cancer, early detection of laryngeal cancer increases the odds of having success with treatments.