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Should I see a laryngeal cancer specialist?

Men and women discussing laryngeal cancer

This page tells you about seeing a laryngeal cancer specialist. You can go to information about

 

A quick guide to what's on this page

Should I see a laryngeal cancer specialist?

It can be very difficult for GPs to decide who may have a suspected cancer and who may have something more minor. But there are particular symptoms that could be due to a laryngeal cancer. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has produced guidelines to help GPs decide which patients need to be seen urgently by a specialist. GPs are urged to take particular notice of symptoms in smokers over 50 and in heavy drinkers. It is important to remember that

  • Between 80 and 90 out of every 100 people diagnosed with laryngeal cancer (80 to 90%) develop a hoarse voice
  • Difficulty and pain when swallowing are also common
  • Laryngeal cancer is rare, with very few cases in people under 40

Who needs to see a specialist urgently

Your GP should consider referring you to a specialist if you are aged 45 or over with

  • Persistent unexplained hoarseness in your voice
  • An unexplained lump in the neck

You should get an appointment within 2 weeks for an urgent referral. There are now rapid access clinics for hoarse voice in many hospitals. These have been set up so that you can get an appointment more quickly.

 

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

 

 

Who should see a specialist

It can be very difficult for GPs to decide who may have a suspected cancer and who may have something much more minor that will go away on its own. With many symptoms, it is perfectly right that your GP should ask you to wait to see if they get better or respond to treatment such as antibiotics. 

If GPs referred everyone who came to see them to a specialist immediately, the system would get jammed and people needing urgent appointments wouldn't be able to get them. But there are particular symptoms that could be due to a laryngeal cancer. If you have these, your GP should refer you to a specialist straight away.

Seeing a specialist

 

The NICE guidelines

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has produced guidelines for GPs to help them decide which patients need to be seen urgently by a specialist. While reading these guidelines, it is important to remember that

  • Between 80 and 90 out of every 100 people diagnosed with cancer of the larynx (80 to 90%) develop a hoarse voice
  • Difficulty and pain when swallowing are also common symptoms
  • Cancer of the larynx is uncommon – there are around 2,400 cases diagnosed each year in the UK
  • Very few cases are diagnosed in people under 40
 

Who needs to see a specialist urgently

According to the NICE guidelines, you should get an appointment within 2 weeks for an urgent referral.

Your GP should consider referring you to a specialist if you are aged 45 or over with

  • Persistent unexplained hoarseness in your voice 
  • An unexplained lump in the neck

There are now rapid access clinics for people with a hoarse voice in many hospitals in the UK. These clinics have been set up so that you can get an appointment, and an early diagnosis of the problem, more quickly.

 

If you are still worried

Do remember that some of these symptoms are usually caused by other less serious medical conditions. They do not always mean that you have cancer of the larynx. A hoarse voice can be caused by smoking, shouting, singing or a throat infection.

If you are worried that your GP is not taking your symptoms as seriously as you think they should, you could print this page and take it along to an appointment. Ask your GP to talk it through with you and you may be able to decide together whether you need to see a specialist and if so, how soon.

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Updated: 30 June 2015