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Most cancers of the larynx begin on, or close to, one of the vocal cords.
A change in voice is usually an early symptom of laryngeal cancer, as even a small tumour can stop the two vocal cords coming together and vibrating properly.
Hoarseness is often the first sign of cancer of the larynx. If you’ve had hoarseness for longer than three weeks, your GP (family doctor) should refer you to a hospital for tests|.
Less commonly, cancer can start in a part of the larynx that isn’t close to the vocal cords. In this case, the first symptom may be a feeling of having a lump in the throat or neck, or discomfort or pain when swallowing. Occasionally, the first sign is persistent earache or breathlessness|.
If you have any of the above symptoms, it’s important to let your GP know. They are more likely to be due to conditions other than cancer - for example, a common cause of hoarseness is laryngitis (inflammation of the larynx), which often occurs due to an infection. Most people with the above symptoms will not have cancer.
Content last reviewed: 1 April 2011
Next planned review: 2013
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