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Screening for cancer of the larynx

Men and women discussing laryngeal cancer

This page tells you about screening and cancer of the voice box (laryngeal cancer). You can go to information about

 

A quick guide to what's on this page

Screening for cancer of the larynx

Screening means testing people for early stages of cancer before they have any symptoms. Before screening for any type of cancer can be carried out, doctors must have an accurate test to use. The test must be reliable in picking up cancers that are there. And it must not give a false diagnosis of cancer in people who do not have cancer. A result that appears positive when it is negative is called a false positive result.

At the moment, there is no screening test in the UK reliable enough to find early cancer of the larynx. Cancer of the larynx is also relatively uncommon. It would cost a lot of money to test everyone for a disease that very few people get.

If you have symptoms

If you have symptoms, you can see your GP who can refer you to a hospital specialist. Many hospitals have set up rapid access clinics for people with a long lasting hoarse voice. If you are worried, your GP can refer you to one of these clinics, so that you can be seen as quickly as possible.

 

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

 

 

What screening is

Screening means testing people for early stages of cancer before they have any symptoms. Before screening for any type of cancer can be carried out, doctors must have an accurate test to use. The test must be reliable in picking up cancers that are there. And it must not give a false diagnosis of cancer in people who do not have cancer. This is called a false positive result.

At the moment, there is no screening test in the UK reliable enough to find early cancer of the larynx. Cancer of the larynx is also relatively uncommon. It would cost a lot of money to test everyone for a disease that few people get. Any screening test must be simple and cheap to perform.

With uncommon illnesses, it is most cost effective to screen people who are thought to be at a higher risk. But first we must be sure we know who is at higher risk.

 

Possible tests

The only way to screen for cancer of the larynx would be a test called flexible endoscopy of the larynx and possibly having a tissue sample (biopsy) taken from the lining of the larynx. Flexible endoscopy means having a tube with a light and a camera on the end put up your nose and a short way down your throat. The tube has an eyepiece on the end so that the doctor can look inside your nose, at the back of your mouth and down your throat. The tube is very slim and having the test should not hurt. 

We don't know how reliable flexible endoscopy of the larynx would be as a screening test in people without symptoms. And there is always some risk of complications with any medical procedure, however small.  For example, there is a risk of a small nose bleed. An invasive test like this can be frightening. For every cancer that was found, a lot of people without laryngeal cancer would have to go through this test. As we don't know whether this type of endoscopy is a reliable way to pick up early laryngeal cancers, it is not appropriate to put people through this.

 

If you have symptoms

If you have symptoms, you can see your GP who can refer you to a hospital specialist. Many hospitals have set up rapid access clinics for people who have had a hoarse voice for a few weeks or more. If you are worried, your GP can refer you to one of these clinics, so that you can be seen as quickly as possible. We have a section about seeing a larynx cancer specialist.

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Updated: 26 May 2015