Larynx Cancer

The larynx, also called the voice box, is used to breathe, talk or swallow. Most cancers begin on the vocal cords. These tumors are seldom painful, but they almost always cause hoarseness or other changes in the voice.

Risk Factors

  • Smoking Tobacco — Heavy smokers who have smoked tobacco for a long time are most at risk.
  • Drinking — The risk increases with the amount of alcohol that a person drinks. The risk of laryngeal cancer increases even more for people who are heavy drinkers and heavy smokers. However, not everyone who drinks or smokes heavily will develop the disease.
  • Many other possible risk factors are under study. For example, researchers are studying whether an HPV infection in the throat may increase the risk of laryngeal cancer. HPV is a group of viruses that can infect the body. Another area of research is whether reflux (the backward flow of liquid from the stomach to the throat) may increase the risk of laryngeal cancer.


  • Difficulty breathing
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Frequent choking on food
  • Persistent cough
  • Weight loss


Your physician will conduct a thorough physical exam and review your medical history. The doctor may also look inside the larynx using indirect laryngoscopy or direct laryngoscopy. Indirect larynogoscopy enables the doctor to look down the throat with a small, long mirror to check for abnormal areas and to see whether the vocal cords vibrate as they should. Direct larynogoscopy allows a doctor to insert a lighted tube through the patient's nose or mouth to look at areas that cannot be seen with a mirror.

If the physician notices abnormal areas, he or she may recommend that you have a biopsy to remove tissue samples and study them under a microscope. The physician may also recommend X-rays, a CT scan or MRI scan. A CT enables many X-rays to be taken at once, and a computer puts them together to create a detailed picture of the inside of the body. The MRI scan produces pictures using a huge magnet linked to a computer.

Source: National Cancer Institute