The larynx is the medical name for the voice box, which is located at the entrance to your windpipe.
There are three sections to the larynx:
1. The glottis – the middle section which contains the vocal cords
2. The supraglottis – the upper section, above the vocal cords
3. The subglottis – the lower section, below the vocal cords.
Cancer occurs when a tumor develops at any of these sites, although the most common type of tumor is found on the vocal cords.
Thankfully this type of cancer is easy to detect because if there is any type of obstruction or change to the vocal cords, then the sound of your voice changes. Alterations to the voice are therefore one of the earliest signs of laryngeal cancer.
Lots of other illnesses can cause a hoarse throat, but if you have had this persistently for more than a month, you should see your doctor.
Very rarely, the cancer may start in the glottis or subglottis and in this case, your voice will not be affected, but this type of cancer is uncommon.
Other symptoms include:
• A lump in the neck or throat
• Feeling short of breath
• Difficulty eating and drinking
• Pain when swallowing
If you have any of these symptoms, or all of them together, see your family doctor. He can send you to a specialist at the hospital who will be able to do further tests to determine whether or not you have cancer.
Your specialist will examine you, using a mirror to look at the back of your throat. He may use an instrument called a nasendoscope to check your larynx if he cannot see properly with the mirror.
The nasendoscope will be passed up your nasal passage to your throat. This may be a little painful, but you will be given a local anaesthetic beforehand to numb the area.
If both of these methods fail to give the doctor a clear view, you will have to have a minor exploratory operation. A biopsy will be taken from your larynx to see if it contains cancer. Depending on the result, you may be offered a scan or X-ray to see if the cancer has spread.