Benign laryngeal tumors are noncancerous growths in the throat. This type of tumor does not usually spread. Treatment usually involves removing the growth.

Benign laryngeal tumors affect both males and females and can occur in children and adults. The most common symptom is changes to a person’s voice.

Since this type of tumor is not cancerous, the outlook is usually positive.

This article discusses benign laryngeal tumor types, prevalence, symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, and outlook.

A note about sex and gender

Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.

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The larynx is part of the respiratory tract and comprises cartilage, muscle, and ligaments. It is about 4 to 5 centimeters (cm) in length and is slightly smaller in females than males, and children have smaller larynxes than adults.

The larynx is also known as the voicebox and houses the vocal cords. It narrows in the middle, in an area called the glottis, which contains the vocal cords.

The larger a person’s larynx, the deeper their voice. The space above the vocal cords is the supraglottis, while below is the subglottis.

Types of benign laryngeal tumors include:

  • papillomas
  • fibromas
  • hemangiomas
  • leiomyomas
  • rhabdomyomas
  • schwannomas
  • myxomas
  • chondromas
  • neurofibromas

Changes to laryngeal cells cause benign tumors, which are different from cancer because they typically do not spread.

According to the American Laryngological Association, the most common type of benign laryngeal tumor is the recurrent respiratory papilloma (RRP). It occurs in approximately 4.6 out of 100,000 children and 1.8 out of 100,000 adults.

Experts believe childhood RRPs result from human papillomavirus exposure during childbirth.

About 85% of benign larynx tumors are papillomas.

Benign laryngeal tumor symptoms vary according to the lesion location, but may include:

Laryngeal papilloma is the second-most frequent reason for hoarseness in children.

To diagnose a benign laryngeal tumor, a doctor may perform or order the following:

  • a physical exam, including an examination of the vocal cords
  • a CT scan to determine the size, shape, and precise location of the tumor
  • a biopsy to remove tissue samples for lab analysis
  • a laryngoscopy to examine the throat, which doctors typically carry out in combination with a biopsy

Part of the diagnostic process involves ruling out other possible conditions. To rule out other causes for symptoms, a doctor may ask about:

  • a person’s history of allergies
  • episodes of reflux
  • instances of vocal overuse
  • previous intubations
  • symptom onset and progression
  • trauma history

While a visual exam or imaging results may suggest a tumor is benign, a tissue biopsy can rule out malignancy.

In most cases, treatment for a benign laryngeal tumor involves surgical removal.

Removal is an important part of treatment because there is a risk that tumors may grow and impede a person’s airway. Some tumors, such as papillomas and neurofibromas, can also become cancerous.

Doctors remove benign laryngeal tumors using traditional surgical procedures or laser surgery.

Laryngeal papillomas may require repeat surgeries since this type of tumor tends to recur.

Doctors may consider additional treatment options, including medications and photodynamic therapy, if:

  • a person requires more than four surgeries in a year
  • papillomas grow back rapidly
  • the tumor compromises a person’s airway
  • the papillomas spread to multiple areas

Most people with benign laryngeal tumors have a positive outlook.

However, even benign tumors may cause complications such as airway blockage. In some cases, tumors can also become cancerous. Approximately 1% to 4% of benign papillomas become squamous cell carcinoma.

Additionally, like any surgery, surgery to remove benign laryngeal tumors carries some risks.

There are several types of benign laryngeal tumors — the most common type is recurrent respiratory papilloma.

The standard treatment for benign larynx tumors is surgery. People with papillomas from human papillomavirus may need multiple procedures since this type of tumor is likely to return.

Benign laryngeal tumors are not cancerous and typically do not spread, though they can spread. However, in rare cases, these tumors may become malignant.