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Laryngeal Cancer

Personalized Treatment | Research and Clinical Trials | Additional Patient Support

The larynx (voice box) is an organ in the throat that is between the back of the tongue and the trachea (windpipe). It regulates breathing, produces voice and helps protect the airway when swallowing. It is divided into three sections: the supraglottis (upper portion), the glottis (vocal cords, or middle portion) and the subglottis (the lower portion between the vocal cords and the trachea). Laryngeal cancer, a type of head and neck cancer, can develop in any part of the larynx, but the majority originate in the vocal cords or the supraglottis.

Patients who are ultimately diagnosed with laryngeal cancer usually exhibit one or more of the following symptoms (although many other non-cancerous diseases of the head and neck can also present with similar symptoms):

  • Voice changes
  • Difficulty and/or pain swallowing
  • Sore throat
  • Extensive coughing
  • Lump in the neck or throat
  • Ear pain

Usually an otolaryngologist can look for laryngeal cancer by performing an examination of the head and neck. This exam often includes using a small camera to see deep into the throat. Additional radiographic imaging may also be needed. Ultimately, a biopsy of suspected laryngeal cancer is required for diagnosis.

Vocal cord (glottic) cancer

Approximately one half of all laryngeal cancers start on one (or both) vocal cords. Because even small lesions on the vocal cords can produce significant changes in voice, a patient typically becomes aware of vocal cord cancer at an early stage. In many cases, hoarseness is the only symptom. This form of vocal cord cancer has a lower risk of spreading (metastasizing) to other parts of the body than other types of laryngeal cancer, so treatment is often confined to the vocal cords themselves.

Treatment for early stage vocal cord cancers can include either radiation treatment or laser surgery through the mouth. One unique aspect of Kellogg Cancer Center’s treatment of vocal cord cancer is our collaboration with voice pathologists in NorthShore’s Voice Center. In addition to helping rehabilitate voices, they routinely measure patient voices both before and after treatment. The team uses advanced equipment capable of determining the acoustic and aerodynamic properties of the voice. This allows us to objectively track voice outcomes, which is a crucial metric in treating vocal cord cancer, and provides a growing database for research.

Supraglottic and Subglottic Cancer

Laryngeal cancer originating in the areas above or below the vocal cords has a higher tendency to spread (metastasize) to the lymph nodes in the neck. Treatment can often involve a combination of radiation therapy, chemotherapy and/or surgery. Surgery for supraglottic or subglottic laryngeal cancers sometimes requires an incision in the neck, but in other instances, it can be performed entirely through the mouth.

Personalized Laryngeal Cancer Treatment

Our head and neck cancer team meets regularly in a multidisciplinary conference to discuss your case in detail and to design a personalized treatment plan. Your team may include your medical oncologist, surgeon, radiation oncologist, speech and swallowing therapist, geneticist, radiologist, pathologist, nutritionist, pharmacist, interventional radiologist, social worker and researchers, all focused on you. This "meeting of the minds" provides critical input, resulting in an individualized care plan outlining the best course of action for your care.

Because many patients who suffer from laryngeal cancer smoke, a tobacco cessation program is also part of the treatment plan.

Research and Clinical Trials

In addition to surgical treatments, the Kellogg Cancer Center offers a series of clinical trials that are researching new state-of-art treatments to safely and effectively treat head and neck cancers.

Among the most promising developments in cancer treatment in recent years is immunotherapy. For decades, researchers have been trying to understand why the body’s immune system does not see cancer cells as foreign and attack them. Unlike chemotherapy, which attacks cancer cells, immunotherapy targets the patient’s immune system, spurring the body’s own immune function to unleash an attack on the disease. NorthShore has been an early adopter of immunotherapy, offering progressive treatment options to our patients and supporting ongoing clinical trials and research to further advance this revolutionary field. Currently this includes clinical trials incorporating immunotherapy prior to surgery or in addition to radiation therapy.

Additional Patient Support

The Kellogg Cancer Center sponsors a Support for Patients with Oral and Head and Neck Cancer Group (SPOHNC). Part of a national network, SPOHNC meets every other month on a Monday evening with a patient-focused lecture and a leader-guided support session. Visit Support Groups & Events for more information.

Kellogg Cancer Center’s unique services and resources assist laryngeal cancer patients and family members with a variety of challenges they may face from diagnosis, treatment and beyond. A wide array of support services are available to patients that include our integrative medicine servicesfinancial advocacy and survivorship, to name a few.

For More Information

For more information about laryngeal cancer or to schedule an appointment with one of our oncologists, please call 847.570.2112.