Laryngeal carcinoma

Last updated: April 13, 2022

Summarytoggle arrow icon

Laryngeal carcinoma is a malignant tumor of the larynx that occurs most commonly in older men. Smoking and alcohol consumption are the most important risk factors. Based on the location of the tumor, laryngeal carcinomas may be classified as glottic (involving the vocal cords), supraglottic, or subglottic carcinomas. Glottic carcinoma, which is the most common form, presents early with hoarseness and is usually associated with a good prognosis. Supraglottic and subglottic carcinomas present late and are therefore associated with a poor prognosis. Direct laryngoscopy is required to visualize the tumor and assess vocal cord mobility. Imaging of the neck may be required to determine the extent of the tumor and check for spread to cervical lymph nodes. The method of treatment depends on the site and stage of the tumor. Early stages are treated by either radiotherapy or endoscopic laser resection with the goal of preserving the voice. Late stages require some form of laryngectomy. After laryngectomy patients must undergo vocal rehabilitation, which involves using vibrations in the pharynx to produce speech sounds.

Epidemiologytoggle arrow icon

  • Sex: >
  • Age of onset: 40–70 years


Epidemiological data refers to the US, unless otherwise specified.

Etiologytoggle arrow icon

Classificationtoggle arrow icon

Laryngeal carcinomas are classified according to their location in relation to the glottis.

Laryngeal carcinomas are almost always squamous cell cancers (SCC)!


Clinical featurestoggle arrow icon

Unexplained hoarseness for longer than 3 weeks should always be investigated by laryngoscopy!


Diagnosticstoggle arrow icon

Differential diagnosestoggle arrow icon

The differential diagnoses listed here are not exhaustive.

Treatmenttoggle arrow icon

  • Early stages: radiotherapy or transoral endoscopic laser resection
  • Advanced stages: (with lymph node; and/or distant organ metastasis): laryngectomy
  • Voice rehabilitation after laryngectomy: The patient can be trained to produce speech from vibration in the pharynx by one of the following means:
    • Esophageal speech
    • Voice prosthesis
    • Electronic speaking aid

Prognosistoggle arrow icon

  • Glottic carcinomas have the best prognosis (5-year survival rates of approximately 90%).
  • The 5-year survival rate drops drastically when the supraglottis and/or subglottis are involved.

Referencestoggle arrow icon

  1. Johnson JT. Malignant Tumors of the Larynx. In: Meyers AD, Malignant Tumors of the Larynx. New York, NY: WebMD. Updated: December 22, 2015. Accessed: April 12, 2017.
  2. Bernier J. Head and Neck Cancer. Springer Science & Business Media ; 2011
  3. Kasper DL, Fauci AS, Hauser SL, Longo DL, Lameson JL, Loscalzo J. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine. McGraw-Hill Education ; 2015

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 Evidence-based content, created and peer-reviewed by physicians. Read the disclaimer