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The specific symptoms of larynx cancer, also known as laryngeal and voice box cancer, depend upon the location of the tumor. There are three primary parts of the larynx in which the cancer can grow: the subglottis, the supraglottis, and the glottis. Most symptoms will present themselves in the throat.
Some of the most common overall symptoms of larynx cancer include persistent pain in the ears and throat or hoarseness. An individual may also notice lumps, swelling, and pain in the neck. Some patients have trouble swallowing and an uncharacteristic drop in weight. There may also be bad breath and a persistent cough, which could produce blood, and breathing may sound unusually high-pitched.
In order to diagnose the disease, a doctor will typically start with a physical exam. Some of the symptoms of larynx cancer that a doctor may discover in an initial exam include one or more lumps outside the neck, swelling in the neck area, and bloody phlegm. A physical examination of the inside of the throat may also show signs of the disease.
If a physical exam indicates the symptoms of larynx cancer, most doctors will attempt to make a firm diagnosis via a series of more intensive tests. It is common for a doctor to first perform an indirect laryngoscopy, in which a mirror with a long handle is inserted into the throat in order to give a better view of the area. A direct laryngoscopy, in which a lighted tube is inserted into the throat, may be necessary to provide an adequate view.
Many doctors will also perform a cranial computed tomography (CT) scan, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan, or a biopsy in order to make a diagnosis. The MRI and CT scans can give more detailed information about potential growths in the throat via x-ray images which are displayed on a computer screen. A biopsy involves removing a tissue sample from the throat in order to test for cancer cells. This final method is usually the most effective way to make a definitive diagnosis.
Larynx cancer most commonly begins in the glottis, which is the location of the true vocal chords, also known as vocal folds. It is least common in the lower part of the larynx, which is known as the subglottis. Some cases also start in the supraglottis, which is the location of the epiglottis, a flap that protects the entrance to the larynx.