Cancer of the larynx occurs most often in people over the age of 55 years. A clear association has been made between smoking, excess alcohol ingestion, and laryngeal cancer. If a patient with laryngeal cancer continues to smoke and drink alcoholic beverages, the likelihood of a cure is diminished, and the risk of developing a second tumor is enhanced. People who stop smoking and drinking can greatly reduce their risk of cancer of the larynx.
The larynx is divided into 3 anatomical regions. From top to bottom, they are the supraglottis, the glottis (which contains the vocal cords), and the subglottis. The supraglottic area is rich in lymphatic drainage so up to half of people with supraglottic tumors already have metastases (spread of the tumor) to lymph nodes at the time of diagnosis. The vocal cords are largely devoid of lymphatic vessels so that cancer confined to the vocal cords rarely, if ever, presents with involved lymph nodes. Subglottic tumors are quite rare but may metastasize.
Painless hoarseness can be a symptom of cancer of the larynx. The larynx can be examined with a viewing tube called a laryngoscope. Cancer of the larynx is usually treated with radiation therapy or surgery. Chemotherapy can also be used for cancers that have spread.