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Cancer of the Voice Box (Larynx), Head and Neck

According to the American Cancer Society, more than 70,000 Americans each year are diagnosed with head and neck cancers, and more than 15,000 will die.  

The biggest risk factors for head and neck cancer include tobacco and alcohol use. Smokers are six times more likely than non-smokers to develop these types of cancers, and combining tobacco with heavy alcohol use raises the risk dramatically. For example, those who drink and smoke have a 15 times greater risk of developing oral cancers. 

Laryngeal cancer is 4-5 times more common in men than women. However, this discrepancy decreases every year because of the increase in tobacco use in women. 

Signs and Symptoms of Laryngeal cancer 

The first symptoms for laryngeal cancers depend on the sites involved. Symptoms may include the following:

      • hoarseness
      • difficulty swallowing
      • pain with swallowing
      • a sensation of having a constant "lump in throat"
      • ear pain
      • chronic cough
      • bloody cough
      • trouble breathing 
  • Vocal cord cancers often have hoarseness as an early complaint.

  • Difficulty swallowing and trouble breathing are usually later findings.

  • Tumors below the vocal cords are very rare but the most common symptoms are shortness of breath on exertion or trouble breathing

Any episode of hoarseness lasting more than two weeks should be investigated. 

Cancer of the larynx can be treated in a variety of ways depending on the location, size, and the needs and overall health of the individual. Smaller cancers can often be treated by endoscopic removal or radiation therapy. For larger tumors, combined treatment may be necessary including surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy. Over the last decade, technological advancements have radically changed the approach to surgical treatment of the larynx. Many intermediate-sized tumors can now be treated by minimally invasive endoscopic techniques. This often avoids the need for a tracheotomy and often reduces the need for a feeding tube. Dr Grillone offers these minimally invasive surgical options as part of his armamentarium in treating laryngeal cancer. 

Precancerous lesions of the larynx can sometimes be treated at the office with just topical anesthetic.