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Treatment of laryngeal cancer depends on where the cancer is in the larynx, its stage|, your age and overall health.
If the cancer is small and at an early stage, it can be treated and usually cured by radiotherapy| or surgery| (usually laser surgery). With larger tumours, you may need surgery to remove part or all of the larynx, or a combination of chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Radiotherapy may also be given after surgery to help reduce the risk of the cancer coming back (recurrence).
Chemotherapy| is sometimes used to help to reduce the size of the cancer before radiotherapy or surgery. It can also be used if the cancer has spread beyond the larynx or has come back after radiotherapy.
Some people may have treatment with a biological therapy| instead.
If it’s not possible to cure the cancer, treatments such as radiotherapy and surgery may be used to help relieve symptoms|. This is called palliative treatment.
If you smoke and/or drink alcohol heavily, try to give these up before treatment starts, as the treatment may then be more effective and some of the side effects more manageable.
This will also reduce the risk of the cancer returning and the risk of other cancers developing.
Giving up smoking| can be very difficult, especially at times of stress, but several organisations can help you. Your GP or cancer specialist can also give you advice.
You may be advised to visit a dentist for a check-up and to have any necessary treatment. Ensuring your teeth or dentures are in good condition can help avoid problems with your mouth during treatment.
In most hospitals a team of specialists will talk to you about the treatment they feel is best for your situation.
This multidisciplinary team (MDT) will include:
It may also include other healthcare professionals, such as dietitians, physiotherapists, social workers, counsellors or psychologists.
The MDT will take a number of factors into account when advising you on the best course of action, including your age, general health, the type and size of the tumour, and whether it has spread.
If two treatments are equally effective for your type and stage of cancer, your doctors may offer you a choice of treatments.Sometimes people find it hard to make a decision. If you’re asked to make a choice, make sure that you have enough information about the different options, what is involved and the possible side effects so that you can decide on the right treatment for you.
Remember to ask questions about any aspects of your diagnosis and treatment that you don’t understand or feel worried about. It may help to discuss the benefits and disadvantages of each option with your cancer specialist, nurse specialist or with our cancer support specialists|.
If you have any questions about your treatment, don’t be afraid to ask your doctor or nurse. It often helps to make a list of questions and to take a relative or close friend with you.
Before you have any treatment, your doctor will explain its aims. They will usually ask you to sign a form saying that you give permission (consent) for the hospital staff to give you the treatment. No medical treatment can be given without your consent, and before you are asked to sign the form you should be given full information about:
If you don’t understand what you’ve been told, let the staff know straight away, so they can explain again. Some cancer treatments are complex, so it’s not unusual for people to need repeated explanations.
It’s a good idea to have a relative or friend with you when the treatment is explained, to help you remember the discussion. You may also find it useful to write a list of questions before your appointment.
People sometimes feel that hospital staff are too busy to answer their questions, but it’s important for you to know how the treatment is likely to affect you. The staff should be willing to make time for your questions.
You can always ask for more time if you feel that you can’t make a decision when your treatment is first explained to you.
You are also free to choose not to have the treatment. The staff can explain what may happen if you don’t have it. It’s essential to tell a doctor, or the nurse in charge, so they can record your decision in your medical notes. You don’t have to give a reason for not wanting treatment, but it can help to let the staff know your concerns so they can give you the best advice.
Your multidisciplinary team (MDT) uses national treatment guidelines to decide the most suitable treatment for you. Even so, you may want another medical opinion. If you feel it will be helpful, you can ask either your specialist or GP to refer you to another specialist for a second opinion. Getting a second opinion may delay the start of your treatment, so you and your doctor need to be confident that it will give you useful information.
Many people are frightened by the idea of having cancer treatments, particularly because of the side effects that can occur. However, these can usually be controlled with medicines.
If you’ve been offered treatment that aims to cure your cancer, deciding whether to accept it may not be difficult. However, if a cure is not possible and the purpose of treatment is to control the cancer for a period of time, it may be more difficult to decide whether to go ahead.
Making decisions about treatment in these circumstances is always difficult, and you may need to discuss in detail with your doctor whether you wish to have treatment. If you choose not to have it, you can still be given supportive (palliative) care, with medicines to control any symptoms.
Content last reviewed: 1 April 2011
Next planned review: 2013
For answers, support or just a chat, call the Macmillan Support Line free (Monday to Friday, 9am-8pm)
If you have any questions about cancer, need support or just want someone to talk to, ask Macmillan.
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© Macmillan Cancer Support 2013
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