Diagnosis & staging
These are tests that may be used to diagnose this type of cancer.
- Physical examination
- In-depth examination by a head and neck specialist (an otolaryngologist) using a mirror (indirect laryngoscopy) or an endoscope.
- Biopsy (usually done under general anaesthetic)
- Imaging of the tumour site by one or more of the following methods:
- Computed tomography (CT)
- Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)
- Positron Emission Tomography (PET)
For more information on tests used to diagnose cancer, see our Recommended Websites, Diagnostic Tests section.
Types and Stages
- Nearly all larynx cancers are carcinomas arising from cells that line the larynx (squamous cells), but they differ widely in their behavior depending on their site of origin.
- Cancers of the vocal cords (glottis) are the most common type of larynx cancer. They usually grow slowly; early spread to other sites (metastasis) is uncommon.
- Hyperkeratosis (thickened lesions) on the vocal cords can progress to cancer and should be monitored carefully.
- Cancers of the subglottis are rare (only 1-8% of all larynx cancers), and are more likely to spread to other sites early.
- Supraglottic carcinomas are also rare, and also likely to spread, especially to lymph nodes of the neck.
Staging describes the extent of a cancer. The TNM classification system is used as the standard around the world. In general a lower number in each category means a better prognosis. The stage of the cancer is used to plan the treatment.
T describes the site and size of the main tumour (primary)
N describes involvement of lymph nodes
M relates to whether the cancer has spread (presence or absence of distant metastases)
The tumour is limited to just one part of the larynx; all the parts have normal mobility.
The tumour extends to more than one part of the larynx and the mobility of the vocal cords may be impaired.
The tumour is limited to the larynx but vocal cords have lost mobility; supraglottic tumours may have invaded adjacent structures like the postcricoid area.
The tumour has spread into the soft tissues of the neck, thyroid, pharynx, or esophagus.
Surgical removal is possible
Surgical removal is not possible