Laryngeal cancer is a type of cancer that affects the larynx (voice box).

The larynx is part of the throat found at the entrance of the windpipe (trachea). It plays an important role in helping you breathe and speak.

In the UK, there are about 2,400 new cases of laryngeal cancer each year.

The condition is more common in people over the age of 60. It's about four times more common in men than women.

Symptoms of laryngeal cancer

The main symptoms of laryngeal cancer include:

  • a change in your voice, such as sounding hoarse
  • pain when swallowing or difficulty swallowing 
  • a lump or swelling in your neck
  • a long-lasting cough
  • a persistent sore throat or earache
  • in severe cases, difficulty breathing

Some people may also experience bad breath, breathlessness, a high-pitched wheezing noise when breathing, unexplained weight loss, or fatigue (extreme tiredness).

When to see your GP

You should visit your GP if you have had any of the main symptoms listed above for more than three weeks.

These symptoms are often caused by less serious conditions, such as laryngitis, but it's a good idea to get them checked out.

If necessary, your GP can refer you to a hospital specialist for further tests to confirm or rule out cancer.

Read more about diagnosing laryngeal cancer.

What causes laryngeal cancer?

It's not clear exactly what causes laryngeal cancer, but your risk of getting the condition is increased by:

  • smoking tobacco
  • regularly drinking large amounts of alcohol
  • having a family history of head and neck cancer
  • having an unhealthy diet
  • exposure to certain chemicals and substances, such as asbestos and coal dust

By adopting a healthy lifestyle, including avoiding alcohol and tobacco, you can significantly reduce your chances of developing laryngeal cancer.

Read more about the causes of laryngeal cancer and preventing laryngeal cancer.

How laryngeal cancer is treated

The main treatments for laryngeal cancer are radiotherapy, surgery and chemotherapy.

Radiotherapy or surgery to remove the cancerous cells from the larynx can often cure laryngeal cancer if it's diagnosed early.

If the cancer is advanced, a combination of surgery to remove part or all of the larynx, radiotherapy and chemotherapy can be used.

If you have surgery to remove your larynx, you'll no longer be able to speak or breathe in the usual way. Instead, you will breathe through a permanent hole in your neck (stoma) and you will need additional treatment to help restore your voice.

This may include an implant in your throat, or an electrical device you hold against your throat to produce sound.

Read more about treating laryngeal cancer and recovering from laryngeal cancer surgery.


The outlook for laryngeal cancer depends on the extent of the cancer when it's diagnosed and treated.

Fortunately, most laryngeal cancers are diagnosed at an early stage, which means the outlook is generally better than some other types of cancer.

Overall, about 70 out of every 100 people will live for at least 5 years after diagnosis and about 60 out of every 100 people will live for at least 10 years.

If you smoke, stopping smoking after being diagnosed with laryngeal cancer may improve your outlook.

Page last reviewed: 07/08/2015

Next review due: 07/08/2017