What is Laryngeal Cancer?

The Larynx

The larynx (voice box) is located just below the pharynx (throat) in the neck. The larynx contains the vocal cords, which vibrate and make sound when air is directed against them. The sound echoes through the pharynx, mouth, and nose to make a person's voice.

The larynx has three main parts:

  • Supraglottis - The upper part of the larynx above the vocal cords, including the epiglottis
  • Glottis - The middle part of the larynx where the vocal cords are located
  • Subglottis - The lower part of the larynx between the vocal cords and the trachea (windpipe)

The larynx and vocal cords are above the windpipe at the entrance to the lungs. They produce sound for speaking, protect the airway during swallowing, create the sound and pitch of your voice and create a passageway for air to lungs.

Laryngeal Cancers

Most laryngeal cancers form in squamous cells, the thin, flat cells lining the inside of the larynx. Most squamous cell cancers of the larynx and hypopharynx begin as pre-cancerous conditions called dysplasia. Most of the time, dysplasia doesn't turn into actual cancer. Although, some cases of dysplasia will progress into a condition called carcinoma in situ (CIS).

In CIS, the cancer cells are only seen in the uppermost layer lining the larynx. They have not grown into deeper areas of the tissue or spread to other parts of the body. CIS is the earliest form of cancer. Most of these early cancers can be cured.

Some areas of the larynx have tiny glands beneath their lining layer, known as minor salivary glands. These glands produce mucus and saliva to lubricate and moisten the area. Cancer rarely develops from the cells of these glands, but when it does, they are called Adenocarcinoma, Adenoid Cystic Carcinoma and Mucoepidermoid Carcinoma

These cancers are distinguished from squamous cell cancer and from one another by the kinds of cells they are made of and by the way these cells are arranged.

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