The part of the body that allows humans to produce sounds and speech is known as the larynx, also called the voice box or Adam’s apple. There are vocal cords (glottis) in the larynx. When air passes through these, they vibrate. At the top of the larynx, there is a small flap of cartilage called epiglottis. Food and saliva are prevented from going down the trachea (the “windpipe” tube that leads to the lungs) by the epiglottis and this way the airways are protected.
On the glottis, the supraglottis (the area above the vocal cords including the epiglottis), or the subglottis (the area connecting the larynx to the trachea), carcinoma larynx or cancer of the larynx can occur. Men are affected by cancer of the larynx more than women. However, due to an increase in smoking in the female population, more women are developing it today. You must consult any cancer doctor if you feel any symptoms of this.
There are many known risk factors for cancer of the larynx. Some of them are:
In the case of smokers, the risk increases up to 30 times. The risk is more if the person smokes a lot. There is also a hazard in second-hand smoke.
The risk for this type of cancer is more than double in heavy drinkers. The risk is even more on combining smoking with alcohol than either drinking or smoking alone.
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD):
The stomach acid backs up into the esophagus in GERD, causing burning pain. Researchers have found that irritation from longstanding GERD is related to higher chances of laryngeal cancer, though it is not proven.
- Poor nutrition:
There are poor nutritional habits in many people who abuse alcohol, but it is also suggested by some research that the absence of enough vitamins might be a risk factor.
- Human papillomavirus (HPV):
Certain cancers may develop from this virus that can cause genital warts. When children are born, the virus may pass from their mothers to them. The larynx is the place where it settles and develops into growths called laryngeal papillomas later on in life. According to cancer specialists, cancer may develop from these growths.
The main symptom is hoarseness in the case of cancer on the vocal cords. The following are the symptoms that cancer has spread or is occurring in another part of the larynx:
- While eating or swallowing something, feeling of stickiness in the throat
- Odynophagia or difficulty in swallowing
- A sudden change in voice pitch or experiencing heaviness
- Speaking in a stiffed or muffled voice as if having eaten something hot
- A cough that doesn’t go away
- A persistent sore throat
- Difficulty in breathing or feeling that something is catching in the throat
- Pain in the ear (pain from deep in the throat can be felt in the ear)
- The presence of a lump or mass in the neck or throat
- Coughing up of blood
One has to consult a head and neck cancer surgeon for various surgical management and treatment options. Radiation can be used to treat early-stage cancer of the larynx. Depending on how far cancer has spread, surgery can involve removing the whole larynx and surrounding tissues or just part of the larynx. The survival rates can be 85-90% if early diagnosis and surgery to target the malignant cells are done.