Laryngeal cancer

Overview

Laryngeal cancer occurs when cancer cells form in the tissues of the larynx (voice box), which is located right below the throat. People don’t usually undergo routine screenings for laryngeal cancer as they would for other cancers.

Our approach

Within the first several days of a visit, the laryngeal cancer multidisciplinary team at Northwell Health will conduct comprehensive tests and develop a personalized treatment program. 

As one of the most progressive centers for laryngeal cancer, highlights of treatments and services include:

  • Innovative TransOral Robotic Surgery (TORS) and other minimally invasive procedures that remove tumors of the larynx, throat and mouth while speeding recovery and preserving speech, swallowing and other key functions. This is a new, innovative approach.
  • Radiation therapy, a cancer treatment that uses targeted, high-energy X-rays to destroy or stop the growth of cancer cells. Physicians combine radiation therapy with chemotherapy to increase the chances of organ preservation.
  • A dedicated oncology nurse navigator who connects patients with the therapies and support they need to manage issues resulting from their disease and treatment.

Each laryngeal cancer diagnosis is unique, so the team meets regularly to discuss patient treatment during weekly multidisciplinary conferences where laryngeal cancer expert physicians share ideas and best practices for delivering the best possible collaborative patient care.  The specialists review each treatment phase to constantly improve care and ensure treatment milestones are reached. 

From diagnosis through treatment, each patient is the capable hands of experts every step of the way. 

Symptoms

 Laryngeal cancer is sometimes discovered (frequently in patients who smoke) with specific symptoms such as:

  • Hoarse voice or other voice changes for more than three weeks
  • Sore throat or trouble swallowing for more than six weeks
  • Lump in the neck
  • Trouble breathing
  • Cough or earache that doesn't go away

Be aware that these symptoms could be due to conditions other than laryngeal cancer, so it’s best to see a doctor right away.

Diagnosis

The first step in making a diagnosis of laryngeal cancer is usually a physical exam, during which a doctor examines the throat and neck and reviews personal and family medical history. If laryngeal cancer is suspected, the patient will undergo additional tests.  

Specialists use a variety of tests, typically outpatient procedures, to deliver an accurate laryngeal cancer diagnosis:

  • Laryngoscopy - The doctor examines the larynx with a laryngoscope (a thin, lighted tube).
  • Upper Endoscopy (EGD)  - A thin, flexible, lighted tube (endoscope) enables the doctor to examine the inside of the esophagus, stomach and duodenum as well as to take tissue samples for biopsy.
  • Panendoscopy - The doctor uses endoscopes to look more thoroughly at the throat, larynx, esophagus and possibly the windpipe (trachea) and bronchi while the patient is under general anesthesia in an operating room. If tumors are found, the doctor will remove tissue samples for further analysis by a pathologist.
  • Barium Swallow - Barium fluid is swallowed to coat the esophagus, stomach and duodenum (the first section of the small intestine) so they are visible on X-rays. 
  • Electrocardiogram (EKG) - An EKG may be performed to ensure the heart is healthy before any surgery is performed.
  • Biopsy - A tissue sample is taken and examined under a microscope by a pathologist to determine the type of cancer. 
  • Chest X-ray - X-rays are taken of the heart, lungs and surrounding tissue to detect if the cancer has spread.
  • CT or CAT Scan (Computerized Axial Tomography) - This procedure uses a combination of X-rays and computer technology to produce detailed three-dimensional images. It is normally done to see if the cancer has spread (metastasized) to other areas of the body and sometimes helps guide a biopsy needle.     
  • MRI Scan (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) - A powerful magnet, radio waves and computer imaging combine to create highly detailed images of areas inside the body to show if and where the cancer has spread. 
  • PET Scan (Positron Emission Tomography) - Small amounts of radioactive sugar are injected to highlight cancers and areas of infection and inflammation. For laryngeal cancer diagnosis, this imaging test looks at metabolic activity within different organs of the body. Cancer cells are distinguished by higher metabolic activity.

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