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A quick guide to what's on this page

Squamous cell laryngeal cancer

About 95 out of every 100 cancers of the larynx (95%) are this type. The cancer develops in the flat, skin like, squamous cells that cover the surface of the epiglottis, vocal cords and other parts of the larynx.

Adenocarcinoma

Adenocarcinoma is uncommon compared to squamous cell laryngeal cancer. It starts in the gland cells (adenomatous cells) that are scattered around the surface of the larynx. These cells produce mucus.

Sarcoma

Sarcomas are cancers that start in the body’s supporting tissues (connective tissues). Cartilage is the supporting tissue of the larynx. Cancers that develop from cartilage are called chondrosarcomas. Sarcomas of the larynx are extremely rare.

Other types of cancer found in the larynx

Very rarely, other types of cancer are first diagnosed in the larynx. It is possible to get lymphoma or plasmacytoma (a type of myeloma) in the larynx. If this is the case you need to go to the section about the type of cancer you have. Your treatment will be completely different to that for laryngeal cancer.

Non cancerous growths in the voice box

Many diseases of the larynx are not cancer. Growths that are not cancer are called benign. They can cause similar symptoms to laryngeal cancer.

 

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

 

 

Cancers that start in the skin like tissue (squamous cell cancer)

About 95 out of every 100 cancers of the larynx (95%) are this type. The cancer develops in the flat, skin like, squamous cells that cover the surface of the epiglottis, vocal cords and other parts of the larynx. Squamous cells are resistant to hot liquids and sharp foods and can heal quickly if damaged. But the more they are damaged, the more new cells have to be made. And the greater the chance that cells may gradually change into cancer cells. There is information about how cancer cells develop in the about cancer section.

 

Cancers that start in gland cells (adenocarcinoma)

Adenocarcinoma is uncommon compared to squamous cell laryngeal cancer. It starts in the adenomatous cells that are scattered around the surface of the larynx. Adenomatous cells are gland cells that produce mucus. The number of adenocarcinomas of the larynx has increased in the last 20 years, but we don't know why this is.

 

Connective tissue cancers (sarcoma)

Sarcomas are cancers that start in the body’s connective tissues. These are the supporting tissues of the body, such as bone, muscle, and nerves. Cartilage is the supporting tissue of the larynx. Cancers that develop from cartilage are called chondrosarcomas. Sarcomas of the larynx are extremely rare.

 

Other types of cancer found in the larynx

Very rarely, other types of cancer occur in the larynx. It is possible to get lymphoma or plasmacytoma (a type of myeloma) in the larynx. If you are looking for information about one of these types of cancer, you need to go to the section about your cancer type. Your treatment will be completely different to that described in this section.

 

Non cancerous changes in the voice box

Many diseases of the larynx are not cancer. These include 

Chronic laryngitis

Chronic laryngitis, or swelling of the voice box lining, is usually caused by

  • Smoking – the larynx is irritated by the smoke, resulting in inflammation
  • Acid reflux – acid from the stomach leaks up into the food pipe (oesophagus)
  • Postnasal drip – mucus from the back of the nose running down the throat
  • Straining the voice – this can occur in people who use their voices a lot, for example, singers, teachers and sports coaches.

Your doctor will talk to you about how to deal with chronic laryngitis. You may have to have a biopsy if your doctor wants to rule out any risk of your laryngitis being caused by a cancer.

Benign tumours

Growths that are not cancer are called benign tumours. They can cause similar symptoms to laryngeal cancer. There are several types of rare benign tumours of the larynx, including

  • Giant cell tumours
  • Granular cell tumours
  • Benign tumours of muscle (rhabdomyomas and leiomyomas)
  • Benign tumours of nerves (schwannomas)

Laryngeal nodules

Nodules are overgrowths of tissue on the vocal cords. They may be caused by smoking, acid reflux and straining the voice. They are a more common cause of hoarseness than benign tumours. They don't usually need much treatment, apart from speech therapy and treatment for acid reflux, if that is the cause.

Papillomas

It is possible to have wart like growths on your larynx. These are not cancer. They are called papillomas or papillary growths. The cause is an infection with a virus called the human papilloma virus (HPV). If you have papillomas that keep coming back, you may have an increased risk of laryngeal cancer later in life.

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Updated: 22 August 2013