What is Cancer of Larynx or Laryngeal Cancer?
Cancer of the larynx or laryngeal cancer is a type of throat cancer which affects the larynx. The larynx contains the muscles and cartilage and is our voice box, thus we can say that larynx enable us to talk. Having cancer of the larynx may cause damage to our voice and even loss of our voice. If the cancer of larynx is ignored and not treated immediately, then it can metastasize or spread to other organs/parts of the body.
Causes & Risk Factors of Cancer of Larynx or Laryngeal Cancer
Cancer of the larynx (laryngeal cancer) or any type of cancer occurs when there is mutation in the DNA of the healthy cell(s) causing rapid division and multiplication of healthy cells leading to their accumulation and formation of tumor or cancer. Instead of dying, the healthy cells continue to multiply and result in cancer. The exact cause of why this happens is not known, but some of the risk factors, which can cause this include:
- Excessive alcohol use.
- Poor nutrition.
- Problems with immune system or weakened immune system.
- Having a family history of cancer of the larynx or throat cancer.
- Exposure to human papilloma virus (HPV).
- Some genetic conditions, such as fanconi anemia.
- Toxin exposure, such as asbestos.
- Chewing tobacco.
- Poor diet which comprises of intake of excessive processed foods and insufficient vegetables and fruits.
Signs & Symptoms of Cancer of Larynx or Laryngeal Cancer
Some of the symptoms of Cancer of Larynx or Laryngeal Cancer include:
- Hoarseness of voice.
- Excessive coughing.
- Coughing produces blood.
- Difficulty in breathing.
- Soreness in the throat.
- Neck pain.
- Difficulty in swallowing food.
- Pain in the ear.
- Swelling and lumps in the neck.
- Unintentional and sudden loss of weight.
It is not necessary that these symptoms always indicate cancer of the larynx or laryngeal cancer. However, if the symptoms persist for more than a week, then immediate medical attention should be sought.
Diagnosis of Cancer of Larynx or Laryngeal Cancer
The key to effective treatment of cancer of the larynx (laryngeal cancer) or any type of cancer is an early diagnosis. For this, first the patient's medical history is taken by the doctor. If the patient seems to have cancer symptoms, then a series of investigations are done. The first of which is commonly laryngoscopy where a small scope is inserted to examine the larynx. If any abnormalities within the larynx are detected, then a biopsy is done where a small sample of laryngeal tissue is taken and sent to laboratory for testing.
Imaging tests usually are not done for diagnosing cancer of the larynx. However, MRI scan, CT scan or PET scan are helpful in finding out if the cancer has spread or metastasized to other areas of the body.
Staging of Cancer of Larynx or Laryngeal Cancer
Staging of cancer of the larynx (laryngeal cancer) or other types of cancer is done to find out how far the cancer has spread. The TNM system is commonly used by the oncologists to stage cancer of larynx or laryngeal cancer:
- The "T" indicates the tumor size.
- The "N" indicates whether the tumor has spread to lymph nodes.
- The "M" indicates whether there has been metastasis of the cancer.
The meaning of Metastasis is spreading of cancer to other organs. The cancer of larynx or laryngeal cancer most often spreads to the lungs. The least serious of cancers are tumors, which are small in size and which haven't spread or metastasized to the lymph nodes. The more the tumors increase or grow in size, the more dangerous they become. The prognosis becomes bad and the survival rates greatly decrease once there is metastasis of the cancer to the lymph nodes. These types of cancers are late stage or advanced cancers.
Treatment of Cancer of Larynx or Laryngeal Cancer
- The goal of treatment of cancer of larynx (laryngeal cancer) or other types of cancer is to preserve the quality of life of the patient as much as possible.
- Treatment of cancer of larynx or laryngeal cancer depends on the extent of the cancer.
- The treatment for cancer of the larynx (laryngeal cancer) or any type of cancer comprises of surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy.
- Surgery is the common method to remove the tumor or the cancerous cells from the larynx.
- The risks from surgery for cancer of larynx or laryngeal cancer is more if the cancer has spread; and includes breathing difficulties, swallowing difficulties, change in voice, disfigurement of neck, loss of voice and permanent scars on the neck.
- Radiation therapy is also done to destroy or kill any remaining cancer cells after surgery.
- Radiation therapy alone can also be done for treating small cancers/tumors.
- Initial treatment for cancer of larynx or laryngeal cancer comprises of radiation or chemotherapy other than surgery. This is commonly done when the size of the tumor is small and surgery is perceived to be unnecessary.
- Chemotherapy alone is also done when the cancer is at an advanced stage and it is too late for surgery.
- Majority of patients with advanced stages of cancer of larynx or laryngeal cancer will need a combination of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
Chemotherapy for Cancer of Larynx or Laryngeal Cancer is done to:
- Kill any cancer cells remaining after surgery and radiation therapy.
- In advanced cancer, where doing surgery is not possible, chemotherapy along with radiation therapy is done for alleviating and treating the symptoms of cancer of larynx.
- Chemotherapy is also done for treating the symptoms of advanced cancers, which cannot be completely removed in surgery.
Treatment for Damage to Voice Box
- During surgery for treatment of cancer of the larynx or laryngeal cancer, a part of the voice box or the complete voice box may be removed. However, this doesn't necessarily mean that the patient will no longer be able to speak. New methods of communication can be learnt or taught through Speech Therapy.
- If the complete voice box is removed, then other type of surgery can be done to help restore your voice. However, your voice will not sound the same, but many patients are able to regain some ability to talk through various procedures.
- Esophageal speech is one such method where the patient is taught to swallow air and send it back up through the mouth to produce speech.
- A trachea-esophageal puncture (TEP) is another method, which comprises of an easier way to send air to the mouth from the lungs. The windpipe and food pipe are connected with a stoma. A valve is then placed on the front of the throat. By using a finger to cover the valve, a patient is able to talk and communicate.
- An electrical/medical device known as electrolarynx can also be used which helps in creating a mechanical voice.
Prevention of Cancer of Larynx or Laryngeal Cancer
Certain lifestyle changes can be made to reduce the risk of cancer of the larynx or laryngeal cancer.
- Reducing or eliminating tobacco in all forms, including smoking, helps in cutting down the risk of cancer of the larynx.
- Consumption of alcohol should be cut down a much as possible.
- Patient should follow a healthy diet comprising of plenty of fruits and vegetables and avoid eating processed foods as much as possible.
- Consumption of foods rich in antioxidants also helps in cutting down the risk of cancer of the larynx.
- Proper safety equipment should be used when working in an environment where there is exposure to toxins including asbestos.
Prognosis of Cancer of Larynx or Laryngeal Cancer
Prognosis of cancer of the larynx or laryngeal cancer depends on how early it's diagnosed and its location. A part of Larynx is the glottis, which contains the vocal cords. About 90% of patients having stage-1 glottis cancer are able to live for five years or more after the diagnosis. About 60% of patients with stage-1 of supraglottic cancer may be able to live for five years or more. The supraglottis contains the epiglottis and closes off the larynx when the food is swallowed thus preventing the food from entering the lungs.
As mentioned before, the key for successful treatment for cancer of larynx or laryngeal cancer is to start treatment as early as possible. Prognosis of the cancer of the larynx or laryngeal cancer is good if the cancer hasn't spread or metastasized to lymph nodes or other organs of the body.