What is laryngeal cancer?
Laryngeal cancer is a type of cancer, which occurs because cells of the larynx divide uncontrollably, thus forming a malignant tumour. The cancer cells are different from the normal tissue of the mucous membrane, as their genetic material (DNA) has undergone changes allowing the cells to divide uncontrollably, as opposed to normal tissue. Approximately 2,400 people in the UK are diagnosed with laryngeal cancer each year, and it is around 4 times as common in men than in women. Around 85 out of every 100 (around 85%) will survive their cancer for 1 year or more after they are diagnosed.
What are the symptoms of laryngeal cancer?
The air we breathe, as well as the food we eat, pass the larynx before reaching the trachea (windpipe) and food pipe respectively. In addition, the larynx produces sound for speaking. Common symptoms of laryngeal cancer therefore involve:
- Hoarseness – this is the most common symptom
- Changes in voice volume
- A lump on the neck
- A sore throat
- A feeling that there’s a lump in the throat
- Difficulty swallowing
- Bad smelling breath
- Ear ache
- Cough that doesn’t go away
- Difficulty breathing
- Weight loss
What are the causes of laryngeal cancer
Cancer can be caused by many different factors. Cells change during each cell division, because mutations in their DNA occur randomly, when the DNA is copied to form two new cells, but these mutations can occur through exposure to several factors as well. The individual mutations rarely have an impact on the cell’s life cycle, but as a person gets older and mutations are accumulated, a cell might acquire the ability to divide uncontrollably, thus forming a lump and spreading to other parts of the body (metastasis). Laryngeal cancer can thus be caused by coincidental occurrences in cell division, but it has also been associated with factors which increase the number of mutations. In particular, laryngeal cancer is associated with smoking and alcohol, but also with HPV virus, strong inorganic acids, asbestos and working in the rubber industry. Laryngeal cancer very rarely occurs in people who have never smoked – actually the risk increases the longer you smoke and the more cigarettes (or cigars or pipes) you smoke. The harmful effect of smoking can be increased by alcohol and once again, the more you drink, the bigger the risk of laryngeal cancer. By contrast, eating a diet high in fruit and vegetables might lower the risk of this type of cancer.
What are the treatments for laryngeal cancer?
The type of treatment of laryngeal cancer varies depending on the size and placement of the lump and whether it has spread to other organs. The treatment of laryngeal cancer is mainly based on radiation therapy, because this is often effective enough to treat the cancer, and because it makes it possible to preserve the larynx. In certain situations, it will be beneficial to add chemotherapy to the treatment, especially if the lump is big or if it has spread to other parts of the body. Furthermore, surgery or laser treatment are also possible treatments in certain cases of laryngeal cancer.