Treatment overview

You will usually be treated in a specialist centre by a team of healthcare professionals.

The main treatments for cancer of the larynx are radiotherapy and surgery. Chemotherapy and targeted therapies (biological therapies) may also be used, but they are not usually used for early-stage cancer of the vocal cords. These treatments can be given alone or in combination.

For most people, the aim is to remove or destroy the cancer and reduce the chance of it coming back.

Your doctors will plan your treatment so that any long-term effects on your speech, swallowing and appearance are kept to a minimum. Your doctor and specialist nurse will explain how the different treatment options may affect you.

The treatment you have will depend on:

  • where the cancer is in the larynx
  • the size of the cancer and whether it has spread (stage).

Your doctor will also consider:

  • how fast-growing the cancer is (grade)
  • your general health.

If the cancer is at an early stage, it can usually be cured by radiotherapy or by an operation through the mouth with an endoscope. For other stages, you may need a combination of surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy or a targeted therapy.

If the tumour is large, you may need surgery to remove part or the whole of the larynx.

If you have a locally advanced cancer, your doctors may recommend a combination of chemotherapy and radiotherapy (chemoradiation) instead of surgery.

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

Doctors sometimes give chemotherapy to reduce the size of the cancer before radiotherapy. You may also be offered chemotherapy if the cancer has spread outside the larynx or comes back after radiotherapy.

Some people have treatment with a targeted therapy drug together with radiotherapy.

If it isn’t possible to cure the cancer, your doctor will offer you treatment to help slow down the growth of the cancer and relieve symptoms. This is called palliative treatment.

Questions to ask about treatment

You may find it helpful to download this leaflet, which suggests useful questions to ask your doctor or nurse about your treatment for laryngeal cancer.

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Staging and grading

Knowing the stage and grade of a cancer helps your doctors decide on the best treatment for you.