Laryngeal cancer — cancer that arises in the larynx (voice box) — is the second most common type of head and neck cancer. The vast majority of laryngeal cancers occur in men.
The larynx is located at the top of the trachea (windpipe) and is surrounded by the hypopharynx (the lower part of the throat where swallowing takes place). The larynx is visible on most men’s throats as the Adam’s apple. The larynx contains two bands of muscle called vocal cords, which vibrate as air passes through to make speech. The larynx also prevents food from entering the lungs.
Tobacco and alcohol use — especially the combination of the two — are the most common risk factors for laryngeal cancer. Additional risk factors include exposure in the workplace to wood and metal dusts, asbestos, paint fumes, and other chemical inhalants; a diet low in vitamins A and E; gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), which chronically exposes the throat to stomach acid; and infection with the human papillomavirus (HPV). People with aplastic anemia, a blood disorder associated with certain hereditary conditions, also have a higher risk of developing laryngeal cancer.
The most common symptoms of laryngeal cancer include hoarseness, a lump in the neck (due to an enlarged lymph node), ear pain, and difficulty swallowing.