What Is Laryngeal Cancer?

Medically Reviewed by Sabrina Felson, MD on February 23, 2024
3 min read

Laryngeal cancer develops when cancer cells form in the tissue of the larynx, or voice box.

It’s one of the most common types of head and neck cancers, affecting about 12,620 adults in the U.S. each year. Men are almost four times more likely to be diagnosed with it than women.

You might have a sore throat or cough that doesn’t go away. You could feel ear pain, have trouble swallowing, or notice a lump in your neck or throat. Your voice might become hoarse.

See your doctor if you have any of these symptoms. You could have laryngeal cancer, or another condition with similar symptoms.

Laryngeal cancer is more common in African-Americans and whites than in other races. More than half of those diagnosed with this disease are age 65 or older.

Other things that increase your risk include smoking, moderate to heavy alcohol use, eating a poor diet, and working in an environment where you’re exposed to dangerous fumes and chemicals for long periods of time.

Long-term exposure to secondhand smoke might increase your risk of developing laryngeal cancer.

Your doctor will do a thorough physical exam. They’ll check your throat and neck for things that don’t look right, like swollen lymph nodes. They’ll take a look at the inside of your mouth, including your cheeks, lips, gums, tongue, and throat.

They might also remove some tissue samples and look at them under a microscope (biopsy). To take a closer look, they may insert a thin tube into your nostril (using numbing medication) with a light and lens, called a laryngoscope (laryngoscopy). It is a procedure done in the doctor's office.

There are several different tests that can be done, including a CT scan, MRI, PET scan, bone scan, or X-rays to help find out whether you have laryngeal cancer.

Options for treating laryngeal cancer are a lot like those used to treat other types of cancer -- radiation, chemotherapy, and surgery.

Radiation uses high-energy X-rays to kill cancer cells. Depending on how far your cancer has spread, your doctor could deliver radiation externally (from outside your body), or they might use a needle, wire, or catheter to insert it near your larynx.

Chemotherapy (“Chemo”) uses medications to kill cancer cells or to stop them from dividing. You can take these medicines by mouth. Your doctor might also give them to you through an IV.

Surgery might also be an option for treating laryngeal cancer. Again, depending on which part of your voice box is affected and how far the cancer has spread, your surgeon could remove your vocal cords or parts of the larynx. In some cases, they might have to remove your entire voice box. The goal of surgery is to take out the cancer but preserve your ability to talk.

Laryngeal cancer can often be cured if it’s found early. See your doctor right away if you have any symptoms.