Laryngeal cancer

Laryngeal cancer (cancer of the larynx) is a malignant disease of the mucosa of the larynx. Hoarseness is the main symptom of laryngeal cancer as the vocal cords are affected. The most important treatment measure is the surgical removal of the tumour.

Laryngeal cancer is a rather rare tumour. Around 270 people fall ill with laryngeal cancer in Switzerland every year, Men are affected far more frequently and make up around 85 per cent of the cases of illness. The cancer occurs predominantly in old age. From the age of 50, the risk of falling ill with laryngeal cancer greatly increases. The main reason for the occurrence of laryngeal cancer is benzopyrene, which is contained in cigarette smoke. Excessive alcohol consumption and infection with the wart virus HPV are also deemed to be risk factors.

Hoarseness is often the first symptom of laryngeal cancer. Every bout of hoarseness which lasts longer than usual and is not connected with the flu should be checked by a doctor. Coughing, difficulty swallowing or a feeling of constantly having to clear the throat can be further signs of laryngeal cancer.

Different examinations are carried out to diagnose laryngeal cancer. They include inspection of the larynx with a laryngoscopy. If there is suspected laryngeal cancer, the larynx will be examined endoscopically under anaesthesia and tissue samples will be taken. Computed tomography is used to diagnose the exact spread of the tumour.

Laryngeal cancer can only be fully cured if the tumour is completely removed. In general, the earlier that laryngeal cancer is detected, the better the recovery rates are. If there are small tumours, the functions of the larynx and thus the voice can usually be retained. If the tumours are large or advanced, the entire larynx must often be removed. Then it is no longer possible to breathe through the mouth or the nose. Therefore, an opening in the throat, known as a tracheostoma, is created in such cases. Those affected must learn to speak with a “replacement voice” without vocal chords.

Additional radiotherapy or chemotherapy is often administered after the surgery.