Laryngeal cancer is cancer that begins in the larynx. It is a rare kind of head and neck cancer. The larynx, which includes the vocal cords, is another name for the voice box. It sits above the windpipe in the neck and front of the food pipe (oesophagus), says Dr Purnendu Bhowmik, a throat cancer treatment in Kolkata.

The larynx:

  • Stops food from entering the windpipe during swallowing
  • Allows the air one breathes to pass in and out of the lungs
  • Produces sound for speaking

Why should one get surgery for laryngeal cancer?

Surgery can:

  • Remove cancer and cure it
  • Treat cancer recurrence after radiotherapy
  • Relieve symptoms (palliative surgery)

The surgery one get depends on the stage and position of cancer. The position of cancer affects how much of the voice box the surgeon extracts. The patient’s test results help the specialist decide if surgery is an option, says the throat cancer doctor in Kolkata.

Types of surgery for laryngeal cancer

The main kind of surgery for laryngeal cancer is laser surgery through the mouth, extracting the larynx and lymph nodes. All kinds of surgery are done under a general anaesthetic, so the patient will be asleep for the whole operation.

Laser surgery through the mouth (endoscopic resection)

This is also called:

  • Transoral laser microsurgery (TLM)
  • Transoral resection of the larynx (TORL)

Photodynamic therapy (PDT) is used to cure early laryngeal cancer or precancerous cells. Before having PDT, the patient gets a drug injection that makes laryngeal cancer cells sensitive to the laser light. PDT is also used to control signs of advanced laryngeal cancer.

Extracting part of the voice box (partial laryngectomy)

One might have a partial laryngectomy for early laryngeal cancer or cancer that has come back after treatment. The specialist makes a cut on the neck. They extract part of the voice box (larynx). The patient keeps at least part of one vocal cord. They are usually still able to speak afterwards, but the voice can be quite raspy or weak.

During the surgery, the surgeon also makes a hole in the neck through which the patient can breathe. The hole is called a stoma (tracheostomy). The tracheostomy allows the voice box to heal after the operation, says the throat cancer doctor in Kolkata.

Most people who undergo a partial laryngectomy get a temporary tracheostomy. After a brief recovery time, the tracheostomy tube is removed and the stoma gradually closes up. Once it has closed, one can start to speak naturally again. Some people need a permanent tracheostomy, but this is rare.

Extracting the voice box (total laryngectomy)

When the surgeon extracts the whole larynx to remove cancer, it is called a total laryngectomy. They can also remove part of the pharynx. The pharynx is the area that starts behind the nose and ends at the top of the windpipe and food pipe.

The larynx is the connection between the mouth and your lungs. After they remove it, that connection is no longer there. So when the surgeon attaches the end of the windpipe to a hole in the neck, the patient uses it to breathe through. This is called a stoma. After a total laryngectomy, this stoma is permanent, says Dr Purnendu Bhowmik, a throat cancer treatment in Kolkata