Follow-up after treatment for laryngeal cancer

Follow-up after treatment is an important part of cancer care. Follow-up for laryngeal cancer is often shared among the cancer specialists (surgeon, radiation oncologist and medical oncologist) and your family doctor, dentist and speech therapist. Your healthcare team will work with you to decide on follow-up care to meet your needs.

Don’t wait until your next scheduled appointment to report any new symptoms and symptoms that don’t go away. Tell your healthcare team if you have:

  • an increase in hoarseness or other voice changes
  • a sore throat
  • difficulty swallowing or breathing
  • a lump in the neck

The chance that laryngeal cancer will come back (recur) is greatest within the first few years, so you will need close follow-up during this time.

Schedule for follow-up visits

Follow-up visits for laryngeal cancer are usually scheduled:

  • every 4 to 8 weeks for the first 2 years
  • every 3 months for year 3
  • every 6 months for years 4 and 5
  • then once a year

During follow-up visits

During a follow-up visit, your healthcare team will usually ask questions about the side effects of treatment and how you’re coping. They may also ask about your use of tobacco and alcohol. Your use of tobacco and alcohol can affect how successful your treatment will be. It can also affect your risk of the cancer coming back or developing another cancer.

Your doctor may do a physical exam of the head and neck, including:

  • feeling for any lumps, swelling or enlarged lymph nodes in the neck
  • feeling for lumps or swelling on the inside of the mouth, including the cheeks and lips
  • feeling the floor of the mouth and the base of the tongue
  • examining the roof of the mouth and the back of the throat
  • examining the nose and ears

Tests are often part of follow-up care. You may have:

  • a laryngoscopy to look at the larynx and take a biopsy if there is an area that doesn’t look normal
  • a biopsy to check if the cancer has come back
  • imaging tests such as a CT scan, an MRI or a PET scan to check for spread of the cancer
  • blood tests to check thyroid function every 6 to 12 months
  • a chest x-ray to check for spread of the cancer to the lungs
  • speech and swallowing tests to evaluate rehabilitation
  • dental exams to check for cavities

If the cancer has come back, you and your healthcare team will discuss a plan for your treatment and care.

Questions to ask about follow-up

To make the decisions that are right for you, ask your healthcare team questions about follow-up.

Expert review and references

  • American Cancer Society. Laryngeal and Hypopharyngeal Cancers. 2014:
  • Mendenhall WM, Werning JW . Cancer of the larynx: General principles and management. Harrison LB, Sessions RB, Kies MS (eds.). Head and Neck Cancer: A Multidisciplinary Approach. 4th ed. Philadelphia: Wolters Kluwer/Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2014: 18a: 441-458.