Major Forms of Cancer - Cancer of the larynx

Cancer of the larynx is chiefly a disease of men, afflicting about eight times as many men as women, usually around the age of 60. It is not one of the major types of cancer, with about 9,000 new cases appearing each year in the United States; but more than 35 percent of these cases are fatal. About 70 percent involve tumors on the vocal cords and are classed as intrinsic cancers of the larynx. The remainder of the cases involve tissues originating outside the vocal cords and are designated as extrinsic .


One of the first symptoms of intrinsic cancer of the larynx is hoarseness. Later the patient loses his ability to speak and has difficulty breathing. The same series of symptoms occurs in cases of extrinsic cancer except that there is an initial period of pain or discomfort in the throat before hoarseness begins. Adenopathy , or swelling of the lymph nodes in the area, also may be an early symptom of extrinsic cancer of the larynx.


Diagnosis of cancer of the larynx is relatively simple because the throat's interior can be examined by a physician and tissue samples can be removed for biopsy study. Detection of extrinsic cancer may be complicated by the fact that it is more likely to metastasize than intrinsic forms.


In early cases of intrinsic cancer, or for small lesions that appear in the middle of the vocal cords, radiation may be the therapy of choice.

Surgery may be required for more serious cases, with radiation treatments before or after surgery, or both. The surgery, called a laryngectomy , may involve partial or total removal of the larynx. If a partial laryngectomy is performed, an effort is made to save as much of the vocal cords as possible. The voice will be changed after surgery, but it will be functional. The respiratory tract will be preserved. When total laryngectomy is required, the entire larynx is removed and the neck is dissected to determine if cancer cells have migrated to the lymph nodes in the neck. A new trachea is constructed by plastic surgery to permit normal or nearly normal respiration.

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