Laryngeal tumor symptoms include pain, voice changes, and neck lumps.

Laryngeal cancer is a type of head and neck cancer that occurs in the larynx. This is the area of the throat between the base of the tongue and the top of the windpipe.

The average age for a person to receive a laryngeal cancer diagnosis is 66 years. Most people with a new diagnosis are older than 55 years.

This article will provide an overview of laryngeal tumor symptoms, both at the early and late stages, whether they differ from benign tumor symptoms, frequently asked questions, and when to consult a doctor.

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 primary tumor location can affect how soon a person notices laryngeal cancer symptoms.

The larynx has three sections. The vocal cords are in the middle area, known as the glottis. The top of the larynx above the vocal cords is the supraglottis, and the bottom part beneath the vocal cords is the subglottis.

Cancer that starts in the vocal cord area produces noticeable symptoms relating to voice changes, such as hoarseness or shortness of breath. This means doctors may be able to identify the cancer at an earlier stage than if the cancer originates higher in the head and neck.

If a person has cancer that first occurs above the vocal cords, they may not notice symptoms until the disease has spread.

There are usually no symptoms in stage 0, which is the earliest stage of cancer, or carcinoma in situ. At this stage, there are atypical cells in the larynx lining that may progress to become cancer.

Stage 1 laryngeal cancer may not produce obvious symptoms. Even glottis cancer, in which the disease appears on the vocal cords, may not have pronounced symptoms since the vocal cords typically work as they should at stage 1. However, it is possible for a person to experience changes in vocal quality or hoarseness in this stage.

Vocal cord function starts changing at stage 2 glottis and subglottis cancer. If cancer originates above the vocal cords, their function may still be typical in stage 2.

When laryngeal cancer has spread beyond the location of the primary tumor, other symptoms may occur.

Common symptoms of laryngeal cancer include:

Other symptoms may include:

Anecdotally, doctors report that there are several types of benign laryngeal lesions:

These conditions often have a very positive outlook since they are benign. In more serious cases, a benign laryngeal tumor might need treatment because it obstructs a person’s airway or affects voice quality.

Laryngeal papilloma has a 1–4% risk of becoming squamous cell carcinoma.

Benign laryngeal lesions share some symptoms with laryngeal cancer, including:

  • trouble breathing due to airway obstruction
  • voice hoarseness
  • difficulty swallowing
  • ear pain
  • coughing
  • blood in phlegm

A person experiencing these symptoms needs to consult a doctor. A healthcare professional can conduct or order the tests necessary to confirm the larynx tissue changes are benign and noncancerous.

The following are answers to common questions about laryngeal cancer.

Can a person check for throat cancer at home?

A person cannot check themselves for throat cancer at home. However, they can note their symptoms and discuss them with a healthcare professional.

Doctors diagnose laryngeal cancer with lab tests using tumor tissue through a biopsy.

Do the symptoms differ between males and females?

More research is necessary to specify sex-specific differences in symptoms for laryngeal cancers.

However, early symptoms that mimic those of a less serious condition may have a higher risk of malignancy for males than females.

Laryngeal cancer occurs more often in males than females. The lifetime risk for males is 1 in 190, compared with 1 in 830 for females.

What is the most common area where laryngeal tumors occur?

An estimated 98% of throat cancers occur in the glottis or supraglottis areas. Glottis cancer is the most common, comprising about 60% of laryngeal cancers.

Early stage laryngeal cancer symptoms, such as hoarseness, can mimic those of other conditions, such as a common cold or chest infection.

Anyone experiencing a hoarse voice for more than 3 weeks or any other symptoms above that persist longer than 2 weeks should consult a doctor as soon as possible.

Early laryngeal cancer symptoms may resemble a common cold. However, if certain symptoms, such as throat pain, voice hoarseness, and a cough, persist longer than 3 weeks, a person needs to speak with a doctor.

The later stages of throat cancer can produce symptoms such as difficulty breathing, unintentional weight loss, and a noticeable neck lump.

Benign laryngeal tumors have similar symptoms to throat cancer. It is not possible to tell whether a lesion is benign without proper testing, so anyone with symptoms should consult a doctor for a proper diagnosis and necessary treatments.