What is laryngeal cancer?
Laryngeal cancer starts in the cells of the larynx (voice box). A cancerous (malignant) tumour is a group of cancer cells that can grow into and destroy nearby tissue. It can also spread (metastasize) to other parts of the body.
The larynx is part of the respiratory system. It is the tube that connects the throat to the windpipe (trachea). The vocal cords are 2 bands of muscle in the middle of the larynx that make sounds and help you speak. The larynx helps keep food and fluids from entering the windpipe. The larynx plays an important role when we breathe, swallow and speak.
Cells in the larynx sometimes change and no longer grow or behave normally. These changes may lead to non-cancerous (benign) conditions such as chronic laryngitis and vocal cord nodules. They can also lead to non-cancerous tumours such as vocal cord polyps and laryngeal papillomatosis.
Changes to cells of the larynx can also cause precancerous conditions. This means that the abnormal cells are not yet cancer but there is a higher chance that they will become cancer. The most common precancerous condition of the larynx is dysplasia.
But in some cases, changes to laryngeal cells can cause cancer. Most often, laryngeal cancer starts in flat, thin cells called squamous cells. These cells cover the inside of the larynx. This type of cancer is called squamous cell carcinoma of the larynx. Laryngeal cancer can develop anywhere in the larynx. It often starts in the middle of the larynx, close to the vocal cords. Most squamous cell cancers begin as dysplasia.
Rare types of laryngeal cancer can also develop. These include minor salivary gland cancers, sarcomas, melanomas and lymphomas.
What the larynx does @(Model.HeadingTag)>
The larynx has 3 main functions.
The epiglottis and vocal cords open naturally during breathing to allow air to move in and out of the lungs through the windpipe. A cough reflex is triggered if food or liquid enters the larynx.
The muscles and ligaments around the larynx stop food or liquid from entering the windpipe and lungs during swallowing. When you swallow, these muscles move the larynx up. This causes the epiglottis to close over the top of the larynx. It also helps move food from the mouth to the esophagus.
The larynx produces sound for speaking as we breathe out air from the lungs. Sound is produced when air passes through the larynx and vibrates the vocal cords. The muscles of the vocal cords expand and contract to change the volume and pitch of the voice. As you push air up through the larynx and out through the mouth, you create the different sounds of speech by moving your teeth, tongue and lips.
American Cancer Society. Laryngeal and Hypopharyngeal Cancers. 2014: https://www.cancer.org/.
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.
Mendenhall WM, Werning JW, Pfister DG . Cancer of the head and neck. DeVita VT Jr, Lawrence TS, & Rosenberg SA. Cancer: Principles and Practice of Oncology. 10th ed. Philadelphia: Wolters Kluwer Health/Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2015: 38: 422-473.