Laryngeal (larynx) cancer

Laryngeal cancer is a type of cancer that affects the larynx (voice box). See your GP if you have had any of the main symptoms for more than three weeks, (see below). These symptoms are often caused by other conditions, and it's a good idea to get them checked out.

About laryngeal cancer

The larynx is part of the throat found at the entrance of the windpipe (trachea). It plays an important role in helping you breathe and speak.

In Northern Ireland, laryngeal cancer is more common in people over the age of 60. Over 80% of cases occur in this age group. It's about three and a half times more common in men than women. It rarely occurs in anyone under the age of 40.

Symptoms of laryngeal cancer

The main symptoms of laryngeal cancer include:

Some people may also experience bad breath, breathlessness, a high-pitched wheezing noise when breathing, unexplained weight loss, or fatigue (extreme tiredness).

When to see your GP

You should see your GP if you have had any of the main symptoms listed above for more than three weeks.

These symptoms are often caused by other conditions, such as laryngitis, and it's a good idea to get them checked out.

If necessary, your GP can refer you to a hospital specialist for further tests to confirm or rule out cancer.

Causes of laryngeal cancer

It's not clear exactly what causes laryngeal cancer, but your risk of getting the condition is increased by:

  • smoking tobacco
  • regularly drinking large amounts of alcohol
  • having a family history of head and neck cancer
  • having an unhealthy diet
  • exposure to certain chemicals and substances, such as asbestos and coal dust

By adopting a healthy lifestyle, including avoiding alcohol and tobacco, you can significantly reduce your chances of developing laryngeal cancer.

Treatment for laryngeal cancer

If you are diagnosed with laryngeal cancer, the health professional looking after your care will discuss the most appropriate treatment options with you.

The main treatments for laryngeal cancer are radiotherapy, surgery and chemotherapy.

Radiotherapy or surgery to remove the cancerous cells from the larynx can often cure laryngeal cancer if it's diagnosed early.

If the cancer is advanced, a combination of surgery to remove part or all of the larynx, radiotherapy and chemotherapy can be used.

If you have surgery to remove your larynx, you'll no longer be able to speak or breathe in the usual way. Instead, you will breathe through a permanent hole in your neck (stoma) and you will need additional treatment to help restore your voice.

This may include an implant in your throat, or an electrical device you hold against your throat to produce sound.

Outlook for laryngeal cancer

The outlook for laryngeal cancer depends on the extent of the cancer when it's diagnosed and treated.

Fortunately, most laryngeal cancers are diagnosed at an early stage. This means the outlook is generally better than some other types of cancer.

In Northern Ireland, overall, about 90 out of every 100 people will be alive one year after diagnosis and treatment. About 60 out of every 100 people will be alive at five years.

If you smoke, stopping smoking after being diagnosed with laryngeal cancer may improve your outlook.

The information on this page has been adapted from original content from the NHS website.

For further information, read terms and conditions.

This page was published May 2018

This page is due for review May 2019

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