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A quick guide to what's on this page

Hoarseness

If you have a hoarse voice for 3 weeks or more, it could be a sign of cancer of the larynx. Hoarseness is one of the most common symptoms. It is much more likely to be caused by something other than cancer, like an infection or smoking. But your GP should refer you to see a specialist for an internal examination of your larynx.

Difficulty in swallowing

This can vary from a feeling that there is a crumb stuck in your throat to being completely unable to swallow food. You may have some pain or a burning sensation when swallowing food. Or you may feel that your food is sticking.

Other symptoms

Other symptoms of cancer of the larynx can include

  • A feeling that there is a lump in your throat
  • A cough or shortness of breath
  • Bad smelling breath (halitosis)
  • Weight loss
  • An ear ache that doesn’t go away (this is rare)

Remember that all these symptoms can be caused by other illnesses. But it is important to report them to your doctor.

 

CR PDF Icon You can view and print the quick guides for all the pages in the About laryngeal cancer section.

 

 

Reporting symptoms to your GP

The symptoms for cancer of the larynx can be similar to symptoms for other illnesses. But it is important that you report any of them to your doctor.

 

Hoarseness or a change in your voice

If you have a hoarseness for more than 3 weeks, it could be a sign of cancer of the larynx. This is one of the most common symptoms. But many other things can cause a hoarse voice. One of the most common causes is acute laryngitis (inflammation of the larynx). This usually happens due to a cold, a chest infection or over use of the voice, such as shouting or screaming.

Smoking can also cause hoarseness. This is due to irritation of the throat lining (mucous membranes). Other causes of hoarseness include

  • Acid reflux
  • Post nasal drip
  • Allergies
  • Thyroid problems
  • Injury

Many people develop hoarseness as they get older. Acid reflux is acid leaking from your stomach up into your oesophagus (food pipe). Acid reflux can cause hoarseness, as stomach acid comes back up the oesophagus and irritates the larynx. Post nasal drip means mucus dripping from the back of your nose down into your throat. This can be because you have a cold, an allergy or because you smoke. It makes you cough and can give you a hoarse voice.

You should see your GP if you have a hoarse voice for more than 3 weeks. But remember, it is more likely to be due to a cough or irritation than cancer.

 

Difficulty in swallowing

This can vary from a feeling that there is a crumb stuck in your throat to being completely unable to swallow food. You may have some pain or a burning sensation when swallowing food. Or you may feel that your food is sticking. A harmless narrowing of the oesophagus (called a stricture) can cause difficulty in swallowing. But it may be because a tumour or swelling is causing a blockage. Either way, you need to see your doctor and get some tests. 

 

Weight loss

Weight loss is a common symptom of many cancers, including cancer of the larynx. It usually happens with more advanced cancer of the larynx and is very unlikely to be the only symptom. It may happen because you are eating less due to pain or difficulty in swallowing. If you have lost 4 to 5 kg (10lbs) or more in a short time and you are not dieting then see your doctor.

 

Cough and shortness of breath

Some people find that they are short of breath or have a cough that doesn't go away. Their breathing may become noisy (stridor)

 

Other symptoms

Other symptoms include

  • A feeling that there is a lump in your throat
  • Bad smelling breath (halitosis)
  • An ear ache that doesn’t go away (this is rare)
 

More information

The earlier a cancer is picked up, the easier it is to treat it and the more likely the treatment is to be successful. So it is important that you go to your GP as soon as possible if you notice worrying symptoms.

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Updated: 22 August 2013