Cancer larynx: causes, symptoms, stages, diagnosis, treatment

Definition: Malignant tumor of the larynx (voice box).

  • Age: most common age at presentation is 40 to 70 years.
  • Gender: male to female 10 to 1, (now it is about 7 to 1)
  • Larynx cancer is more prevalent among lower socioeconomic groups.

Risk factors for Laryngeal SCC

  • Exposure to human papillomavirus (HPV)
  • Tobacco use. Both active & passive smoking are harmful. There is 13-fold risk for laryngeal cancer for smokers
  • Alcohol consumption. Alcohol is thought to promote carcinogenesis.
  • The combination of smoking and alcohol (tabagism) use has a more than additive carcinogenic effect on the larynx (synergistic effect).
  • Chronic Gastric Reflux 
  • Prior history of head and neck irradiation.
  • Occupational exposures: Several types of industrial agents and toxic inhalants are carcinogenic such as (tar, nickel, heat, and asbestos).
  • Leukoplakia and adult papilloma.


  • Site: Glottic Carcinoma: 59%, Supraglottic Cancer: 40%, and subglottic Cancer 1%.
  • Histological Types: 85-95% of laryngeal tumors are squamous cell carcinoma. Other types include verrucous carcinoma, fibrosarcoma, chondrosarcoma, adenocarcinoma and others.

Clinical: Malignant ulcer, fungating mass, or infiltrating nodule.
1. Direct, to adjacent areas, tongue base, or trachea.

2. Lymphatic spread.
A. Glottic: very rare, as there is no lymphatics in Reinke’s space.
B. Supraglottic: common & early due to rich lymphatics >> UDCLN.
C. Subglottic: common may be bilateral >> pre laryngeal, pre tracheal, paratracheal >> middle & LDCLN.

3- Blood spread rare & late: lungs, liver, bone, brain.

Staging of laryngeal carcinoma

T for primary tumor
Tis Carcinoma in situ.
T1 One region (in glottic T1a : one cord, T1b : two cords).
T2 Two regions.
T3 Fixed cord.
T4 Extra laryngeal spread.

N: Nodes
N0: No cervical lymph nodes positive.
N1: Single ipsilateral lymph node ≤ 3cm.
N2a: Single ipsilateral node > 3cm and ≤6cm.
N2b: Multiple ipsilateral lymph nodes, each ≤ 6cm.
N2c:Bilateral lymph nodes ≤ 6cm.
N3: Single or multiple lymph nodes > 6cm.

M: Distant metastasis
M0: No clinical or radiological evidence of metastasis.
M1: Present clinical or radiological evidence of metastasis.

Symptoms of cancer larynx

  • Hoarseness or dysphonia: Persistent hoarseness in an old male for 2-3 weeks is suspicious for carcinoma.
  • Stridor: It is the early symptom which may alter the attention to subglottic carcinoma.
  • Pain: referred otalgia: may result from ulcer over the inlet of the larynx or perichondritis.
  • Dysphagia: common in supraglottic lesions.
  • Neck mass : mostly lymph nodes.

I. General
Teeth for sepsis & oral hygiene. 
Chest : distant metastasis.

II. Local: (Larynx)
1-External (Neck): Lymph nodes, swelling, broadening, tenderness, and thyroid cartilage.
2-By Indirct Laryngoscopy, flexible or Direct Laryngoscopy examination:
Tumor: Hyperkeratotic warty or papillary growth, malignant ulcer, or raised nodule.

V.C mobility
  • Freely mobile.
  • Fixed: deep muscle invasion.
  • Limited: weight of tumor or moderate invasion
Extension: to hypopharynx, trachea or tongue.

NB: some areas are difficult to be examined: ventricle, subglottis, posterior surface of epiglottis.


1- Radiology:
Chest X Ray
CT scan: to detect cartilage invasion, extra laryngeal spread and subglottic extension.
MRI: Superior than CT scan in demonstrating soft tissue involvement.
2-DL: Site, extent, and biopsy.
3-Metastatic work up. (Chest X ray, abdominal sonar & bone scan).
4-Routine preoperative investigations.

Treatment of cancer larynx:

Tis stage
Surgery: carcinomatous transformation, without basal membrane penetration. .
  • Complete excision Conservative management: stripping of VC
  • Frequent follow up and re biopsy 6 to 12 weeks later.
  • There is no role for radiotherapy.
T1 Laryngeal Cancer:
  • Radiation therapy.
  • Endoscopic laser microsurgery.
  • Partial laryngectomy (vertical in glottis, and horizontal in supraglottis).
  • In subglottic, either radiotherapy, or total laryngectomy.

T2 Laryngeal Cancer:
  • Radiation therapy.
  • Endoscopic laser microsurgery.
  • Partial laryngectomy (vertical in glottis, and horizontal in supraglottis).
  • In some cases, supracricoid laryngectomy is done.
  • In subglottic, either radiotherapy, or total laryngectomy.
T3 Laryngeal Cancer:

  • Total laryngectomy with or without postoperative chemo radiotherapy.
  • Supracricoid laryngectomy in selected cases.
  • Chemo radiation therapy.

T4 Laryngeal Cancer:

  • Total laryngectomy, usually combined with thyroidectomy and followed by postoperative radiotherapy.
  • Chemoradiation therapy.

NB: Supracricoid laryngectomy
  • Remove the mid third of the larynx. One arytenoid can be resected.
  • Preserve functions of larynx (deglutition, respiration, phonation and airway protection) without compromising cure rate. Patient ends without a tracheotomy.

Indications of total laryngectomy:

1- T3, T4 glottic, supraglottic.
2- All subglottic & transglottic.
3- Recurrence or failure after conservative surgery.
4- Recurrence or failure after radiotherapy.
5- Contraindication for conservative or radiotherapy.
6- Certain histological types.

Contra indications of total laryngectomy:

1- Poor general condition.
2- Patient refusal.
3- Distant metastasis.
4- Involvement of unresectable structures.

Disadvantages of total laryngectomy

1- Loss of voice.
2- Inability to increase intra thoracic pressure.
3- Permanent tracheostomy.
4- Loss of nasal functions.
5- Limitation of activities.

Voice Rehabilitation after total laryngectomy
• Tracheostomal prosthesis
• Electrolarynx
• Pure esophageal speech.

Management of cervical metastasis:

-If palpable LN >> Neck dissection should be performed.
- If no palpable LN >> Glottic (nothing)
Supra glottic >> prophylactic(elective) neck dissection, or radiotherapy.
Sub glottic >> prophylactic(elective) neck dissection, or radiotherapy

Palliative treatment

Indicated in: Unresectable tumors, surgery refusal, distant metastasis & poor general condition
1- Tracheostomy. 
2- Ryle or gustrostomy for feeding.
3- Pain killers. 
4- Palliative laser, radiotherapy, chemotherapy.


 Early cancer has good prognosis, glottic cancer has best cure rate up to 90% due to early presentation (hoarseness) &absent lymphatic spread.


Head and neck cancers [Fact sheet]. (2017).
Laryngeal and hypopharyngeal cancer. (2017).
Laryngeal cancer treatment (adult). (2018).
Mayo Clinic Staff. (2018). Throat cancer.
Cancer larynx: causes, symptoms, stages, diagnosis, treatment
Dr.Tamer Mobarak


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