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Treatment decisions

A team of doctors and other professionals discuss the best treatment and care for you. They are called a multidisciplinary team (MDT). The team can include: 

  • specialist head and neck surgeons
  • specialist head and neck clinical oncologists (doctors who specialise in radiotherapy and drug treatments for cancer)
  • specialist head and neck cancer nurse
  • speech and language therapist
  • dietitian
  • social worker
  • dentist

The treatment you have depends on:

  • your type of laryngeal cancer
  • where the cancer is in your larynx
  • how far it has grown or spread (the stage)
  • how abnormal the cells look under a microscope (the grade)
  • your general health and level of fitness

Your doctor will discuss your treatment, its benefits and the possible side effects with you.

Making decisions

In some situations, you might not have a choice of treatment because it is clear which treatment will work best. 

But you may be given a choice, especially if you have a small, early tumour. For example, you might be able to choose between trans-oral laser surgery (endoscopic resection) or radiotherapy. The outcomes of this type of surgery and radiotherapy are very similar.

Your doctor will discuss the risks and benefits of the different options with you.

You might have a combination of treatments. And you might need to see various people from the multidisciplinary team who specialise in different aspects of your treatment.

You can ask your doctor or nurse to introduce you to a patient who has had treatment if you think this would be helpful to you.

Treatment overview

You might have one or more of the following treatments:

  • surgery
  • radiotherapy
  • chemotherapy
  • targeted cancer drug

Treatment by stage

Tis (Tumour in situ)

The surgeon might completely remove the abnormal area when you have the biopsy. Or you might have laser treatment.

If the cancer cells come back again you might have further laser surgery or radiotherapy.

T stage 1 and 2

Treatment might include:

  • surgery using a laser to remove the cancer through your mouth (trans-oral laser surgery)
  • surgery to remove part of your voice box (a partial laryngectomy)
  • radiotherapy

If your cancer is above your vocal cords (supraglottis) the surgeon will do everything possible to leave the vocal cords unharmed.

If your doctor thinks there is any risk of the cancer coming back, they might offer you radiotherapy after surgery.

T stage 3

You might have chemotherapy with radiotherapy (chemoradiotherapy). There may be reasons why you can't have chemotherapy (for example, due to other medical conditions). If this is the case, you may have a targeted cancer drug instead, or radiotherapy alone.

Instead of chemoradiotherapy, you might have surgery. The surgeon may use a laser to remove the cancer through your mouth (trans-oral laser surgery.) Or you might have surgery to remove part of your voice box (partial laryngectomy).  The surgeon is also likely to remove your lymph nodes. Or you have radiotherapy to these lymph nodes.

If your cancer is in the area below your vocal cords (subglottis), you might have surgery to remove all of your voice box (total laryngectomy). You have radiotherapy afterwards to lower the risk of the cancer coming back. Or you may have radiotherapy alone.

T stage 4

You might be able to have radiotherapy with chemotherapy or a targeted cancer drug. This means you avoid surgery to remove your larynx.

But you might need surgery to remove your whole larynx (laryngectomy) and surrounding lymph nodes, followed by radiotherapy. 

You might have radiotherapy and chemotherapy to shrink your cancer before surgery. Some people may not need surgery after this, so it can be kept in reserve in case the cancer comes back.

Laryngeal cancer that comes back

Your treatment depends on what treatment you had first time round.

Before treatment, your doctor might take another sample of tissue (biopsy). This is because it can sometimes be difficult to tell if a new lump in the treatment area is scar tissue or a cancer that has come back. 

If your cancer comes back after radiotherapy your doctor will probably suggest surgery to remove your voicebox (total laryngectomy).

If your cancer comes back after surgery, you are most likely to have radiotherapy. You might have this alongside chemotherapy or a targeted cancer drug.

Last reviewed: 
10 Jul 2018
  • Head and Neck Cancer: United Kingdom National Multidisciplinary Guidelines
    The Journal of Laryngology & Otology, 2016

  • Principles and practice of oncology (10th edition)
    VT De Vita, S Hellman and SA Rosenberg
    Lippincott, Williams and Wilkins, 2015

  • Squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck: EHNS–ESMO–ESTRO Clinical Practice Guidelines for diagnosis, treatment and follow-up
    Gregoire V and others
    Annals of Oncology 21 (Supplement 5): v184–v186, 2010

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