Preparing for laryngeal (larynx) cancer treatment
Before treatment for laryngeal cancer starts, you will see your doctor or specialist nurse. They will give you information about the treatment and help you prepare. You may also see a:
- speech and language therapist (SLT).
You can ask your cancer doctor or specialist nurse to refer you to anyone in the multidisciplinary team (MDT) at any time. This can be before, during or after your treatment.
If you smoke or drink alcohol, your cancer doctor or specialist nurse will give you advice on stopping.
We have more information about treatment for laryngeal cancer.
If you smoke, there are lots of benefits of stopping.
- means the side effects of treatment may be less severe
- increases the chances of your treatment being effective
- may reduce the risk of cancer coming back after treatment
- reduces the risk of developing cancer in other parts of the body, such as the lungs.
We have more information about giving up smoking that you may find helpful.
Not drinking alcohol, particularly spirits, will help make some side effects of treatment less severe. It can also reduce your risk of developing another head and neck cancer.
If you would like support to reduce how much alcohol you drink, your specialist nurse or doctor can arrange this for you.
There is more information about alcohol and drinking guidelines at drinkaware.co.uk.
Your cancer doctor may refer you to a dentist with experience in treating people who have cancer of the larynx. Or you may need to see your own dentist. This is to make sure your teeth or dentures are in good condition. This can reduce the risk of mouth problems during and after treatment.
If you are going to have radiotherapy and some of your teeth are unhealthy, you may need them removed before your treatment starts.
You may also see an oral hygienist. They can give you advice on how to look after your teeth and gums. Knowing how to look after your mouth is very important. This is because cancer treatment may make it more sensitive and likely to get infections. This can happen particularly if you have radiotherapy.
Before treatment for cancer of the larynx, you will see a speech and language therapist (SLT). Treatment can affect your breathing, speech and voice in different ways. Your SLT will talk to you about possible effects of treatment. They will also explain how to cope with these changes.
If you have radiotherapy, you will breathe and speak in the same way, but your voice may become hoarse.
If you have surgery, you may need to learn how to breathe and speak in a different way. Effects on your breathing and speech will depend on the type of surgery you have.
Your surgeon and SLT will talk to you about what changes to expect from your surgery. Remember, you will get lots of support to help you cope with any changes.
If your team thinks treatment may affect your swallowing, you may see a dietitian and speech and language therapist (SLT). They can help with any swallowing and dietary problems you have before treatment.
Your SLT can also tell you about any effects treatment is likely to have on your swallowing. They will talk to you about what can help.
Your SLT can show you exercises that may help improve swallowing after treatment. These will depend on the type of swallowing difficulties you have.
Usually, swallowing improves within a few months of finishing treatment. Some people find it takes longer to improve. Rarely, some swallowing difficulties are permanent.
If your team thinks you may develop swallowing difficulties during treatment, they may suggest you are fed through a tube for a while. This is to make sure you have enough calories to maintain or gain weight.
Having a feeding tube
Some different ways you can be fed by a tube include the following:
Nasogastric (NG) feeding
This is where a thin tube is passed up the nose and down into the stomach.
If you have problems swallowing and need to be tube fed, your healthcare team will explain which type will be best for you.
When your swallowing improves, and you can eat and drink enough through your mouth, the tube may be removed.
You may need to go home with a feeding tube. If this happens, your dietitian or a nurse can teach you how to use and look after it safely. They can also show your family members or friends how to do this.
You may also have home visits from community nutritional care nurses. These nurses can help with feeding tube care and setting up the feeds.
We have more information about nutritional support and artificial feeding.
Below is a sample of the sources used in our laryngeal cancer information. If you would like more information about the sources we use, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
ESMO Annals of Oncology. Squamous cell carcinoma of the oral cavity, larynx, oropharynx and hypopharynx. EHNS-ESMO-ESTRO Clinical Practice Guidelines for diagnosis, treatment and follow up. 2020. Available from www.esmo.org/guidelines/head-and-neck-cancers/squamous-cell-carcinoma-of-the-head-and-neck (accessed Jan 2022).
NICE Guideline NG36. Cancer of the upper aerodigestive tract: assessment and management in people aged 16 and over. 2018. Available from www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ng36 (accessed Jan 2022).
NICE Technology Appraisal TA736. Nivolumab for treating recurrent of metastatic squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck after platinum-based chemotherapy. 2021. Available from www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ta736 (accessed Jan 2022).
This information has been written, revised and edited by Macmillan Cancer Support’s Cancer Information Development team. It has been reviewed by expert medical and health professionals and people living with cancer. It has been approved by Senior Medical Editor, Dr Claire Paterson, Consultant Clinical Oncologist.
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