Your risk of developing cancer depends on many things including age, genetics, lifestyle and environmental factors.
Anything that can increase your risk of cancer is called a risk factor.
Laryngeal cancer is uncommon in the UK. There are some factors that are known to increase your risk. Having any of the below risk factors doesn’t mean that you’ll definitely develop laryngeal cancer.
Risk factors for laryngeal cancer include:
As with most cancers, laryngeal cancer is more common in older people than younger people. There are very few cases in people under 40 years of age.
When you smoke, it passes through the larynx on its way to your lungs. This smoke contains harmful chemicals. Smoking tobacco (cigarettes, pipes, cigars) increases your risk of developing laryngeal cancer. It is one of the main risk factors for laryngeal cancer in the western world.
Your cancer risk increases the longer you smoke and the more cigarettes smoked per day.
Drinking alcohol increases your risk of laryngeal cancer. Smoking and drinking together further increases your risk of cancer.
UK guidelines recommend no more than 14 units of alcohol a week for both men and women.
There is some evidence to suggest a diet low in fruit and vegetables may increase your risk of laryngeal cancer.
HPV stands for human papilloma virus. It is a common infection and for most people it doesn't cause any problems and goes away on its own.
Some research has suggested that HPV is linked to laryngeal cancer but more research is needed. It is a common cause in other types of head and neck cancers. But the link to laryngeal cancer is rare.
People who have a first degree relative diagnosed with a head and neck cancer have an increased risk of laryngeal cancer of someone without a family history. A first degree relative is a parent, brother, sister or child.
Your body’s immune system fights infection. Some illnesses and medications can weaken your immune system. Research shows there may be an increased risk of laryngeal cancer if you:
- have HIV or AIDS
- are taking medication to suppress your immune system after an organ transplant
Exposure to substances
Some chemicals may increase your risk of laryngeal cancer. You may have an increased risk if you have been regularly exposed over some years to high levels of:
- wood dust
- soot or coal dust
- paint fumes
- coal as a fuel source
The chemicals in these substances can irritate the lining of your larynx. If these irritants are around you, you’re likely to breathe in and swallow small amounts.
You also have a higher risk or laryngeal cancer if you are exposed to these chemicals:
- isopropyl alcohol
- sulphuric acid mist
- diesel fumes
But only a small number of cases of laryngeal cancer are caused by factors such as these.
Other possible causes
Stories about potential causes are often in the media. It isn’t always clear which of the ideas reported are supported by good evidence. You might have heard about a possible cause which we haven’t included here. This is because there is either no evidence to support it, or that what the evidence shows is not fully clear.