Screening for laryngeal cancer

Screening aims to find cancer early. No national screening is available for laryngeal cancer in the UK. 

What is screening?

Screening means testing people for early stages of a disease. This is before they have any symptoms. For screening to be useful the tests:

  • need to be reliable at picking up cancers
  • overall must do more good than harm to people taking part
  • must be something that people are willing to do

Screening tests are not perfect and have some risks. The screening programme should also be good value for money for the NHS.

Why is there no UK screening programme for laryngeal cancer?

At the moment, there is no screening test in the UK reliable enough to find early laryngeal cancer.

Laryngeal cancer 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.

Talk to your GP if you think you are at higher than average risk of laryngeal cancer.

Possible tests

The only way to screen for laryngeal cancer would be a test called flexible endoscopy of your larynx. The doctor might take a tissue sample (biopsy) from the lining of your larynx.

A flexible endoscopy uses a tube with a light and a camera on the end. The doctor puts the tube up your nose and a short way down your throat. The tube has an eyepiece on the end. So 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 shouldn't hurt. 

It is not appropriate to put people through this type of endoscopy to screen for larngeal cancer because:

  • we don't know how reliable flexible endoscopy is at picking up early laryngeal cancers in people without symptoms
  • there is always some risk of complications with any medical procedure, however small
  • this type of invasive test can be frightening - for every cancer found, a lot of people without laryngeal cancer would have to have this test

If you have symptoms

Do see your GP if you have symptoms you think could be caused by laryngeal cancer. They will refer you to a specialist urgently if they think there is any chance your symptoms could be caused by cancer.

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