Laryngeal cancer

Around 2,300 people in the UK are diagnosed with cancer of the larynx every year.

The main risk factors are smoking tobacco and drinking alcohol, but other factors can also increase your risk.

This type of cancer is rare in people under 40. It's more common in people in their 60s and 70s. It's five times more common in men than in women.

Most cancers of the larynx are squamous cell carcinomas. This means the cancer starts in the thin, flat cells (squamous cells) of the lining of the larynx. There are also rarer types of laryngeal cancer including sarcomas, lymphomas, adenocarcinomas and neuroendocrine carcinomas.

Your symptoms will depend on where in the larynx the cancer is. Most cancers of the larynx begin on, or close to, one of the vocal cords.

Symptoms of laryngeal cancer (cancer of the larynx/voicebox)

  • changes to your voice (such as hoarseness)
  • a swelling or lump in your neck or throat
  • difficulty swallowing or pain when chewing or swallowing
  • earache that doesn't get better
  • feeling breathless.

A change in your voice can be an early symptom of laryngeal cancer. If you've had hoarseness for more than three weeks, your GP should refer you to a hospital for tests.

Less commonly, the first symptoms may be a lump in the throat or neck, or discomfort or pain when swallowing. This usually happens when the cancer starts in a part of the larynx that isn't close to the vocal cords.

If you have any of the above symptoms, it's important to let your GP know. They can all be caused by other conditions, but it's important to get them checked.

*Information provided by Macmillan cancer support

At The Christie, laryngeal cancers are treated by the head and neck team.

Last updated: March 2023