Laryngeal Cancer

The larynx is divided into three parts: the supraglottic larynx, the glottis, and the subglottic region.Malignant tumors in these regions can affect specific functions of the larynx. A malignancy in the supraglottic area may cause obstruction of the upper airway. A tumor in the glottis will affect voice quality.

Laryngeal tumors also affect swallowing. This occurs when tumors infiltrate and change the physical structure of the swallowing muscles, making it difficult to swallow.

Location of the Laryngeal Cancer Affects Treatment

Treatment of this disease is extremely difficult because the objective is to remove the tumor and stop it from recurring while not causing any additional harm to the functions of the larynx.

The therapy is typically dictated by the stage of the disease and its location. Tumors of the supraglottic region and the glottis that have not progressed past the area in which they originated, or are in the early stages of progression can be either surgically removed or treated with radiation. Both are equally effective.

Stage III tumors are generally treated with chemotherapy and radiation given concurrently; while stage IV requires total laryngectomy, a procedure to remove the whole larynx. The organ is reconstructed during surgery and the patient is given concurrent postoperative chemotherapy and radiation.

Common Symptoms of Laryngeal Cancer

  • Hoarseness
  • A lump in the neck
  • A persistent sore throat and/or cough
  • A constant feeling that something is stuck in your throat
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Weight loss

Common causes of Laryngeal Cancer

The most significant risk is smoking. However, risk decreases after the individual stops. There is a synergistic effect between smoking and alcohol consumption, meaning the increased risk from the combination is greater than the increased risk from each individually. It has not been proven that alcohol alone is a risk for laryngeal cancer.

Other causes include:

  • Diets low in green vegetables and high in red meats, cholesterol
  • Exposure to paint, diesel and gasoline fumes and radiation
  • Infection with human papillomavirus (HPV)

Asbestos is a Possible Cause of Laryngeal Cancer

The association between asbestos exposure and laryngeal cancer remains controversial because the studies that have been conducted to examine this relationship have typically failed to adjust for tobacco and alcohol use, according to an editorial titled “Asbestos Exposure and Laryngeal Cancer: Is there an Association?” published October 1, 2009 in Ear Nose & Throat Journal.

However, a study titled “Occupational Asbestos Exposure as a Risk Factor for Laryngeal Carcinoma in a Population-Based Case-Control Study from Germany”, published online May 2, 2011 in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine found that moderately elevated risks for laryngeal cancer resulted from exposure to asbestos after adjusting for tobacco and alcohol use.

The researchers evaluated data collected from face-to-face interviews using a detailed questionnaire covering individual work history, and from job-specific questionnaires for selected jobs known to require exposure to asbestos. The participants in this study were made up of 73 laryngeal cancer patients and 158 healthy individuals in South-West Germany.

Initially the scientists observed that the risk for asbestos-induced laryngeal cancer was extremely high; however the risk level dropped significantly after adjustment for tobacco and alcohol use.

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