Cancer Of The Vocal Cords

What Is Cancer Of The Vocal Cords?

cancer-of-the-vocal-cordThe vocal cords are folds found in a part of the throat called the larynx or voice box. The vocal cords open and close to regulate the air flow to and from the lungs. When air passes through this narrowed opening the vocal cords can vibrate and produce a sound that the upper airway, tongue, and mouth can form into speech.


Cancer of the vocal cord is the result of malignant (cancerous) cell growth on these folds. In the early stage of disease these cancerous cells may be viewed by your physician as red or white lesions on the tissue that covers the cords.


As the cancer cells continue to divide, the tumor can prevent the vocal cords from working properly and spread to other parts of the larynx. Cancer can affect one or both vocal cords and may be detected early because of changes in the voice such as hoarseness.

What Causes Cancer of The Vocal Cord? What Cases Vocal Cord Cancer?

Many people who have been diagnosed with vocal cord cancer have a history of smoking and tobacco use. Research shows that smoking can also reduce the effectiveness of treatment for vocal cord cancer and increase the chances that the cancer comes back. Excessive alcohol consumption has also been linked to higher risk for vocal cord cancer.


Although smoking and alcohol consumption are major risk factors, sometimes individuals who do not smoke or drink will develop cancer of the vocal cord. A common virus called human papillomavirus (HPV) may also increase the chances of getting laryngeal cancer. Some research shows that acid reflux disease could be involved as well.

What Are Some Symptoms Of Cancer Of The Vocal Cords?

Symptoms of vocal cord cancer may include:

  • Hoarseness or “breathy” voice lasting longer than 3 weeks
  • Chronic sore throat
  • Ear pain
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Chronic cough with or without blood-stained sputum
  • Sensation that something is stuck in the throat
  • Difficulty catching your breath while talking
  • Lumps that can be felt in the neck
  • Unexplained weight loss

How Is Vocal Cord Cancer Diagnosed?

Flexible nasoendoscopy is a common technique which involves using a thin camera, inserted through the mouth or nose, to look down into the voice box. If a suspicious lesion or growth is seen a biopsy will be recommended.


If the results of the biopsy show that the cells are cancerous, a computed tomography (CT) scan, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan, or positron emission tomography (PET) scan may be performed. These imaging modalities assess the location and spread of the cancer. Fortunately, when vocal cord cancer is diagnosed early, there is often no spread from the primary tumor site. This is because cancer cells have a more difficult time spreading to other parts of the throat from the vocal cords.


If the tumor has spread into other parts of the voice box, then cancer cells can invade lymph nodes on one or both sides of the neck. The size of the tumor as well as the spread of the cancer to other locations will determine the stage of the cancer.

How Is Vocal Cord Cancer Treated? Is Vocal Cord Cancer Curable?

The two most common treatments for cancer of the vocal cords are are:



This can be done using a small camera and tools that are inserted through the mouth under anesthesia. The cancerous growths will be stripped or excised while aiming to preserve the healthy tissue of the vocal cords.


Radiation therapy

Using beams of radiotherapy, the cancer cells on and around the vocal cords are killed. These treatments are done over the course of several weeks as outpatient visits.

For early vocal cord cancer, both surgery and radiation therapy these treatment options have the same success or cure rate. The goal in both cases is to remove or kill all the cancer cells and to preserve as much of the vocal function as possible.

Chemotherapy is not as common for early vocal cord cancer as the side-effects are thought to outweigh the benefits. Chemotherapy used along with radiation may become an option in later stage vocal cord cancer if the cancer cells have spread to other parts of the neck.

Removal of the larynx (laryngectomy) and surgery on the neck to remove cancerous lymph nodes or metastases (tumor spread) may also be necessary in late-stage cancer of the vocal cords.