Treating Laryngeal Cancer

Treatment is aimed at destruction of the cancer and preventing the spread of the cancer to other parts of the body.

Cancer of the larynx may be treated with radiation therapy, surgery, or chemotherapy. Some patients may have a combination of therapies.

Radiation therapy (also called radiotherapy) uses high-energy x-rays to kill cancer cells. The rays are aimed at the tumor and the tissue around it. Radiation therapy is local therapy.

It affects cells only in the treated area. Treatments are usually given 5 days a week for 5 to 8 weeks.

Laryngeal cancer may be treated with radiation therapy alone or in combination with surgery or chemotherapy:

  • Radiation therapy alone: Radiation therapy is used alone for small tumors or for patients who cannot have surgery.
  • Radiation therapy combined with surgery: Radiation therapy may be used to shrink a large tumor before surgery or to destroy cancer cells that may remain in the area after surgery. If a tumor grows back after surgery, it is often treated with radiation.
  • Radiation therapy combined with chemotherapy: Radiation therapy may be used before, during, or after chemotherapy.
After radiation therapy, some people need feeding tubes placed into the abdomen. The feeding tube is usually temporary.


Surgery is an operation in which a doctor removes the cancer using a scalpel or laser while the patient is asleep.

When patients need surgery, the type of operation depends mainly on the size and exact location of the tumor.

There are several types of laryngectomy (surgery to remove part or all of the larynx):

  • Total laryngectomy: The surgeon removes the entire larynx.
  • Partial laryngectomy (hemilaryngectomy): The surgeon removes part of the larynx.
  • Supraglottic laryngectomy: The surgeon takes out the supraglottis, the top part of the larynx.
  • Cordectomy: The surgeon removes one or both vocal cords.

Sometimes the surgeon also removes the lymph nodes in the neck. This is called lymph node dissection. The surgeon also may remove the thyroid.

During surgery for cancer of the larynx, the surgeon may need to make a stoma. (This surgery is called a tracheostomy.) The stoma is a new airway through an opening in the front of the neck. Air enters and leaves the windpipe (trachea) and lungs through this opening. A tracheostomy tube, also called a trach (“trake”) tube, keeps the new airway open. For many patients, the stoma is temporary. It is needed only until the patient recovers from surgery. More information about stomas can be found in the “Living with a Stoma” section.

After surgery, some people may need a temporary feeding tube.


Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to kill cancer cells. Your doctor may suggest one drug or a combination of drugs.

The drugs for cancer of the larynx are usually given by injection into the bloodstream. The drugs enter the bloodstream and travel throughout the body.

Chemotherapy is used to treat laryngeal cancer in several ways:

  • Before surgery or radiation therapy: In some cases, drugs are given to try to shrink a large tumor before surgery or radiation therapy.
  • After surgery or radiation therapy: Chemotherapy may be used after surgery or radiation therapy to kill any cancer cells that may be left. It also may be used for cancers that have spread.
  • Instead of surgery: Chemotherapy may be used with radiation therapy instead of surgery. The larynx is not removed and the voice is spared.
Chemotherapy may be given in an outpatient part of the hospital, at the doctor’s office, or at home. Rarely, a hospital stay may be needed.


Additional Resources



  • National Cancer Institute (NCI) booklet (NIH Publication No. 02-1568, Sept. 20, 2006
  • Laryngeal cancer. Philadelphia (PA): Intracorp; 2005. Various p., Sept. 20, 2006
  • MedlinePlus, William Matsui, MD, Assistant Professor of Oncology, Division of Hematologic Malignancies, Sept. 20, 2006

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