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Throat Cancer


Throat cancer (medically termed cancer of the larynx) has a lot of publicity. Many famous actors and personalities who have been smokers came down with this disease and when the voice disappears the career usually ends. Among all cancers it takes about place 20 on the “olympic” scale. It is 16 times less frequent than prostate cancer, 15 times less frequent than breast cancer and 14 times less frequent than lung cancer.

Yet every popular magazine seems to have to report about this cancer once per year just for the record. It is not surprising though, as a large portion of our human characteristic make-up is transmitted through the voice. Cancer has no mercy and can destroy the vocal cords in only a few weeks. It is therefore of the utmost importance to pay attention to any changes in sound quality of your own voice or the voice of those around you. If in doubt have an ear nose and throat specialist check it out! This specialist is trained to use fiberoptic laryngoscopic equipment in the office, which can very quickly establish whether it is a harmless polyp or a deadly cancer.


If you are in doubt, have an ENT specialist check it out !


Depending on the location in relation to the vocal cords there are several types of cancer with different names: the larynx cancer(=glottic cancer), the supraglottic and the subglottic cancer. The larynx cancer is also called the “glottic” cancer, because the Greek word of “glottis” means tongue and the vocal cords were perceived like the “tongues” of the instrument of the human voice. Here is the nomenclature for throat cancer:

Throat cancer nomenclature


supraglottic cancer : from vocal cords to 1″ above

cancer of the larynx : at vocal cords (=glottic)

subglottic cancer : from vocal cords to 1″ below


Throat Cancer

Throat Cancer

Throat cancer therefore can reach to 1″ above or below the vocal cords. To the ENT specialist it is important to make this distinction. For our purposes here it is only important to know that not every throat cancer is the same. They have different growth behaviors. There has been progress in diagnosing throat cancer earlier. This coupled with voice preserving treatment protocols has resulted in patients being able to retain their voice more often than it was the case in the past.



1. Cancer: Principles &Practice of Oncology.4th edition. Edited by Vincent T. DeVita, Jr. et al. Lippincott, Philadelphia,PA, 1993. Chapter on Tumors of the Larynx and Hypopharynx.

2. Cancer: Principles&Practice of Oncology. 5th edition, volume 1. Edited by Vincent T. DeVita, Jr. et al. Lippincott-Raven Publ., Philadelphia,PA, 1997. Chapter on Tumors of the Larynx and Hypopharynx.

3. SM Jackson et al. Radiother Oncol 2001 May;59(2):219-220.

4. Conn’s Current Therapy 2004, 56th ed., Copyright © 2004 Elsevier

5. Ferri: Ferri’s Clinical Advisor: Instant Diagnosis and Treatment, 2004 ed., Copyright © 2004 Mosby, Inc

Last modified: September 23, 2014

This outline is only a teaching aid to patients and should stimulate you to ask the right questions when seeing your doctor. However, the responsibility of treatment stays in the hands of your doctor and you.