How treatment is planned

A group of specialists with expert knowledge in cancer of the larynx will meet to discuss your treatment. This is called a multidisciplinary team (MDT).

The MDT will look at a number of things, including:

  • your general health
  • the type and size of the cancer
  • whether the cancer has spread
  • national treatment guidelines for laryngeal cancer.

Your doctor and nurse will explain if there are different treatment options for you. It can be hard to make a decision so ask for more information if you need it. Your specialist team will tell you the benefits and disadvantages of different treatments and what they involve. It can also help to know about possible side effects and how to manage them.

You will need to give permission (consent) to the hospital staff before you have any medical treatment.

You may find it helpful to take a friend or relative to your appointments. You may also find it useful to have a list of questions ready to make sure you get the information you need.

Your multidisciplinary team (MDT)

A team of specialists will meet to discuss and agree on the best treatment for you.

This multidisciplinary team (MDT) will usually include:

  • a surgeon who specialises in cancer of the larynx (an ear, nose and throat specialist)
  • a surgeon who specialises in plastic and reconstructive surgery
  • a clinical oncologist who specialises in radiotherapy, chemotherapy and targeted therapies
  • a medical oncologist who specialises in chemotherapy and targeted therapies
  • a therapeutic radiographer who works closely with the doctors to plan and deliver radiotherapy
  • a radiologist who helps to interpret scans and x-rays
  • a pathologist who advises on the type and extent of the cancer
  • a clinical nurse specialist (CNS) who offers information and support
  • a speech and language therapist (SALT) who specialises in the voice, speech and swallowing
  • a dietitian who can advise you if you have problems with eating, drinking or weight loss
  • a restorative dentist who advises on dental care before, during and after treatment.

The team may also include other healthcare professionals, such as physiotherapists, oral surgeons, social workers, counsellors or psychologists.

Making decisions

Your specialist team will consider several factors when advising you on your treatment options. These will include your general health, the stage of the cancer and if it has spread to other parts of the body. Your doctor and nurse will explain if there are different treatment options they can use in your situation. Sometimes people find it hard to make a decision about treatment. If you’re asked to make a choice, make sure you have enough information. You’ll need to know the different treatment options, what they involve and the possible side effects to decide what’s right for you.

The benefits and disadvantages of treatment

Many people are frightened at the idea of having cancer treatments, particularly because of the side effects that can occur. However, these can usually be controlled with medicines. Treatment can be given for different reasons and the potential benefits will vary depending upon your individual situation.

Cancer of the larynx may be cured with surgery or radiotherapy, even when it is locally advanced. Sometimes you need other treatment as well.

If the cancer is advanced and has spread to other parts of the body, treatment may only be able to control it for a period of time, which can improve symptoms and quality of life.

However, for some people in this situation, the treatment will have no effect on the cancer and they will get the side effects without any of the benefit.

If you’ve been offered treatment that aims to cure the 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 or not to have treatment.

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 will still be offered supportive (palliative) care, with medicines to control any symptoms.

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.

Giving consent

Before you have any treatment, your doctor will explain its aims. They will 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.

Before you are asked to sign the form, you should be given full information about:

  • the type and extent of the treatment
  • its advantages and disadvantages
  • any significant risks or side effects
  • any other treatments that may be available.

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 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.

Second opinion

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. If you do go for a second opinion, it may be a good idea to take a relative or friend with you. You may also find it helpful to have a list of questions ready so that you can make sure your concerns are covered during the discussion.

Back to Who will be involved in my treatment decision?

Getting a second opinion

There are many reasons for wanting a second opinion about your treatment. Speak to your specialist or GP.

Making a complaint

Talking to your healthcare team can make it easier to cope. If you find talking difficult, there are things you can do.