Precancerous conditions of the larynx

Precancerous conditions of the larynx are changes to laryngeal cells that make them more likely to develop into cancer. These conditions are not yet cancer. But if they aren’t treated, there is a chance that these abnormal changes may become laryngeal cancer. If these changes are a result of smoking, they often go away without treatment if smoking is stopped.

The most common precancerous condition of the larynx is dysplasia. Dysplasia means the cells are different from normal cells in size, shape and organization within the tissue. As dysplasia progresses, it develops into carcinoma in situ (stage 0), which is a very early cancer that has not yet spread to surrounding tissues.

Risk factors

Risk factors that increase your chance of developing dysplasia include smoking, heavy alcohol use and a combination of both.


The symptoms of dysplasia include changes to the voice including:

  • hoarseness
  • a weak voice
  • a voice that tires easily (voice fatigue)


If you have symptoms or your doctor thinks you might have dysplasia, you will be sent for tests. Tests used to diagnose dysplasia may include:

  • a physical exam
  • a laryngoscopy
  • a biopsy

Find out more about physical exams, a laryngoscopy and biopsies.


Treatment options for dysplasia and carcinoma in situ include:

  • vocal cord stripping (the doctor uses a long instrument to strip away the outer layers of tissue on the vocal cords)
  • endoscopic laser surgery
  • external beam radiation therapy

Expert review and references

  • American Cancer Society. Laryngeal and Hypopharyngeal Cancers. 2014:
  • 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.

Medical disclaimer

The information that the Canadian Cancer Society provides does not replace your relationship with your doctor. The information is for your general use, so be sure to talk to a qualified healthcare professional before making medical decisions or if you have questions about your health.

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