About treatment for laryngeal cancer

You will usually be treated in a specialist centre, by a team of healthcare professionals. This is called a multidisciplinary team (MDT).

Your treatment for laryngeal cancer will depend on:

  • where the cancer is in the larynx
  • the size of the cancer and whether it has spread (stage)
  • how fast-growing the cancer is (grade)
  • your general health.

For most people, the aim of treatment is to remove or destroy the cancer. Treatment will also try to reduce the chance of the cancer coming back.

Your doctors will plan your treatment carefully to reduce your risk of late or long-term effects. However, you may have some side effects during or after treatment. For example, it could affect your speech, swallowing or appearance. Your cancer doctor and specialist nurse will talk to you about how different treatment may affect you.

The main treatments for cancer of the larynx are:

You may also have chemotherapy, targeted therapies or immunotherapy. But you do not usually have these for early stage cancer of the larynx. You may have these treatments on their own or combined.

Treating early stage laryngeal cancer

Early stage cancer of the larynx can usually be cured with radiotherapy or surgery.

Treating locally advanced laryngeal cancer

Chemoradiation

To treat locally advanced cancer of the larynx, your doctors may recommend you have chemotherapy with radiotherapy (chemoradiation) instead of surgery.

Surgery

If the tumour is large, you may need surgery to remove part or all of the larynx. This is called a laryngectomy. If the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes, you may have an operation to remove the affected nodes. This is called a neck dissection.

Adjuvant treatment

Your doctor may advise you to have treatment after surgery, to reduce the risk of the cancer coming back. This is called adjuvant treatment. It may be radiotherapy or chemoradiation.

Chemotherapy

You may have chemotherapy:

  • to reduce the size of the cancer before radiotherapy or surgery (this is rare)
  • if the cancer spreads outside the larynx
  • if the cancer comes back after radiotherapy.

The most common chemotherapy drugs for treating cancer of the larynx are:

Other drugs include:

We have more information about having chemotherapy and possible side effects.

Targeted therapy and immunotherapy

If the cancer has started to spread some people have treatment with a targeted therapy drug called cetuximab combined with radiotherapy.

If the cancer has spread or comes back and chemotherapy has not worked, you may have an immunotherapy drug called nivolumab.

Treating advanced laryngeal cancer

You may be offered different treatments for advanced laryngeal cancer. Sometimes, it may not be possible to cure a cancer. If this happens, your doctor will offer you treatment to help slow the cancer growing and control symptoms. This is called palliative treatment.

How we can help

Macmillan Cancer Support Line
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