Laryngeal cancer

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What is laryngeal cancer?

Laryngeal cancer is a malignant tumour that starts in the cells of the larynx, or voice box. Malignant means that it can spread, or metastasize, to other parts of the body.

The larynx is part of the respiratory system. It is the tube that connects the throat to the trachea, or windpipe. The vocal cords are 2 bands of muscle in the middle of the larynx that make sounds and help you speak. The larynx plays an important role in breathing, swallowing and talking.

Cells in the larynx sometimes change and no longer grow or behave normally. These changes may lead to benign conditions such as chronic laryngitis and vocal cord nodules. They can also lead to benign tumours such as vocal cord polyps and laryngeal papillomatosis. Benign conditions and tumours are not cancerous.

Changes to cells of the larynx can also cause precancerous conditions. This means that the cells are not yet cancer but there is a higher chance these abnormal changes will become cancer. The most common precancerous condition of the larynx is dysplasia. In some cases, changes to laryngeal cells can cause cancer.

Most often, laryngeal cancer starts in flat, thin cells called squamous cells. These cells cover the inside of the larynx. This type of cancer is called squamous cell carcinoma of the larynx. Laryngeal cancer can develop anywhere in the larynx. It often starts in the middle of the larynx, close to the vocal cords.

Rare types of laryngeal cancer can also develop. These include minor salivary gland cancers and sarcomas.

Diagram of the location of the larynx

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