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Laryngeal Cancer Treatment (PDQ®): Treatment - Health Professional Information [NCI] - General Information About Laryngeal Cancer


Supraglottic cancers typically present with sore throat, painful swallowing, referred ear pain, change in voice quality, or enlarged neck nodes. Early vocal cord cancers are usually detected because of hoarseness. By the time they are detected, cancers arising in the subglottic area commonly involve the vocal cords; thus, symptoms usually relate to contiguous spread.

The most important adverse prognostic factors for laryngeal cancers include increasing T stage and N stage. Other prognostic factors may include sex, age, performance status, and a variety of pathologic features of the tumor, including grade and depth of invasion.[6]

Prognosis for small laryngeal cancers that have not spread to lymph nodes is very good with cure rates of 75% to 95% depending on the site, tumor bulk,[7] and degree of infiltration. Although most early lesions can be cured by either radiation therapy or surgery, radiation therapy may be reasonable to preserve the voice, leaving surgery for salvage. Patients with a preradiation hemoglobin level higher than 13 g/dL have higher local control and survival rates than patients who are anemic.[8]

Locally advanced lesions, especially those with large clinically involved lymph nodes, are poorly controlled with surgery, radiation therapy, or combined modality treatment. Distant metastases are also common, even if the primary tumor is controlled.

Intermediate lesions have intermediate prognoses, depending on site, T stage, N stage, and performance status. Therapy recommendations for patients with these lesions are based on a variety of complex anatomic, clinical, and social factors, which should be individualized and discussed in multidisciplinary consultation (surgery, radiation therapy, and dental and oral surgery) prior to prescribing therapy.

Patients treated for laryngeal cancers are at the highest risk of recurrence in the first 2 to 3 years. Recurrences after 5 years are rare and usually represent new primary malignancies. Close, regular follow-up is crucial to maximize the chance for salvage. Careful clinical examination and repetition of any abnormal staging study are included in follow-up, along with attention to any treatment-related toxic effect or complication.


  1. American Cancer Society.: Cancer Facts and Figures 2013. Atlanta, Ga: American Cancer Society, 2013. Available online. Last accessed September 5, 2013.
  2. Spaulding CA, Hahn SS, Constable WC: The effectiveness of treatment of lymph nodes in cancers of the pyriform sinus and supraglottis. Int J Radiat Oncol Biol Phys 13 (7): 963-8, 1987.
  3. Spitz MR: Epidemiology and risk factors for head and neck cancer. Semin Oncol 21 (3): 281-8, 1994.
  4. Bosetti C, Garavello W, Gallus S, et al.: Effects of smoking cessation on the risk of laryngeal cancer: an overview of published studies. Oral Oncol 42 (9): 866-72, 2006.
  5. Hong WK, Lippman SM, Itri LM, et al.: Prevention of second primary tumors with isotretinoin in squamous-cell carcinoma of the head and neck. N Engl J Med 323 (12): 795-801, 1990.
  6. Yilmaz T, Hoşal S, Gedikoglu G, et al.: Prognostic significance of depth of invasion in cancer of the larynx. Laryngoscope 108 (5): 764-8, 1998.
  7. Reddy SP, Mohideen N, Marra S, et al.: Effect of tumor bulk on local control and survival of patients with T1 glottic cancer. Radiother Oncol 47 (2): 161-6, 1998.
  8. Fein DA, Lee WR, Hanlon AL, et al.: Pretreatment hemoglobin level influences local control and survival of T1-T2 squamous cell carcinomas of the glottic larynx. J Clin Oncol 13 (8): 2077-83, 1995.

This information is produced and provided by the National Cancer Institute (NCI). The information in this topic may have changed since it was written. For the most current information, contact the National Cancer Institute via the Internet web site at http:// cancer .gov or call 1-800-4-CANCER.

WebMD Public Information from the National Cancer Institute

Last Updated: September 04, 2014
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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