What is laryngeal cancer?

Laryngeal cancer is a rare cancer in which malignant cells grow in the larynx, or voice box. Smoking tobacco and drinking alcohol are the main risk factors for laryngeal cancer.

The American Cancer Society predict that there will be 13,430 new cases and 3,620 deaths from laryngeal cancer in the United States, in 2016. They note that the number of cases is falling by 2 percent to 3 percent each year, probably because fewer people are smoking.

Cancer of the larynx is more likely in older adults, and it is rare in people under 40 years of age. Men are 4 times more likely than women to develop laryngeal cancers.

How does it start and spread?

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Smoking is the number one risk factor for cancer of the larynx.

Cancer occurs when cells in the body, in this case, laryngeal cells, multiply and divide without control or order.

Normally, cells divide and multiply in a regulated manner. If cells keep dividing uncontrollably when new cells are not needed, a mass of tissue forms, called a growth or tumor.

The cancerous cells can invade nearby tissues and spread to other parts of the body. A benign tumor does not invade or spread.

The larynx is a short passageway, shaped like a triangle, that lies just below the pharynx in the neck. It is about 2 inches wide.

The larynx has three main parts:

The supraglottis is the tissue above the glottis.

The glottis is the middle part of the larynx, where the vocal cords are located.

The subglottis is the tissue below the glottis. It connects to the trachea, which takes air to the lungs.

Cancer of the larynx can develop in any part of the larynx, but it normally begins in the glottis. The inner walls of the larynx are lined with cells called squamous cells, and most laryngeal cancers begin in these cells.

If cancer of the larynx spreads, the cancer cells often spread to nearby lymph nodes in the neck.

The cancer cells can also spread to the back of the tongue, other parts of the throat and neck, the lungs, and other parts of the body.

When this happens, and a tumor forms at the new site, it has the same kind of abnormal cells as the original tumor in the larynx, and it is called metastatic laryngeal cancer.

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