About cancer of the larynx

What should people know about cancer of the larynx?

The larynx, also called the voicebox, is located in the neck near the opening of the trachea (windpipe). The larynx helps us speak and, because of its location, helps protect the windpipe from food and liquids.

Each year in New York State, almost 600 men and about 150 women are diagnosed with cancer of the larynx (also called laryngeal cancer). about 160 men and about 40 women in New York die from this disease each year.

Who gets cancer of the larynx?

Laryngeal cancer usually takes many years to develop, so it is rare in young people. Over half of the people newly diagnosed with laryngeal cancer are age 65 and over. Men are 3 to 4 times more likely than women to get cancer of the larynx. In New York State, laryngeal cancer is more common among Blacks and Whites compared to Asians and Hispanics.

What factors increase risk for developing laryngeal cancer?

At this time, the causes of cancer of the larynx are not well understood. However, scientists agree that certain factors increase a person's risk of developing this disease. These risk factors include:

  • Smoking. Smoking is the most important risk factor for cancer of the larynx. Smoke from cigarettes, pipes and cigars all increase the risk of developing laryngeal cancer. The longer a person smokes, the greater the risk.
  • Alcohol use. Drinking alcoholic beverages increases the risk for laryngeal cancer. People who are heavy drinkers of alcoholic beverages have a risk of developing laryngeal cancer that is several times larger than that of nondrinkers.
  • People who use tobacco and are heavy drinkers have a much greater risk of getting cancer of the larynx than people who do either one alone (or people who do neither).
  • Workplace exposures. Exposure to strong inorganic acids, such as sulfuric acid, increases the risk of developing cancer of the larynx.

What other risk factors for laryngeal cancer are scientists studying?

Scientists are studying the role diet plays in the development of cancer of the larynx. Some studies have suggested that diets high in fruits and vegetables may reduce the risk of getting laryngeal cancer. Researchers are looking into whether the human papilloma virus (HPV, the virus that causes cervical cancer in women) is linked to laryngeal cancer. Studies have examined certain other occupational exposures such as wood dust, nickel, asbestos, and ionizing radiation, but the evidence is not conclusive. Scientists are also studying whether acid reflux (gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD) or a weakened immune system increases risk for cancer of the larynx. Additional research is needed to determine the role, if any, these factors may have in the development of cancer of the larynx.

What can I do to reduce my chances of getting laryngeal cancer?

To help reduce the risk of getting cancer of the larynx:

  • Do not smoke. If you currently smoke, quit. Avoid exposure to second hand smoke. For more information on quitting smoking, visit the NYS Smoker's Quitline at www.nysmokefree.com or call 1-866-NY-QUITS.
  • Limit alcohol use.
  • Be aware of workplace health and safety rules and follow them.

How else can I reduce my risk for cancer?

The following may help reduce the risk of developing cancer:

  • Choose a healthy diet to achieve and maintain a healthy weight. Eat more vegetables, fruits and whole grains and eat less red and processed (e.g., bacon, sausage, luncheon meat, hot dogs) meats. These actions may reduce the risk of developing many types of cancer as well as other diseases.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Discuss the risks and benefits of medical imaging, such as CT scans, with your health care provider to avoid unnecessary exposure to ionizing radiation. This is particularly important for children.
  • Talk with your health care provider about recommended cancer screenings.

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