Larynx Cancer

Larynx cancer is a type of head and neck cancer treated with a multidisciplinary approach. At IEO Larynx cancer is treated by the Head and Neck Division.

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The larynx, the organ of the voice and other functions, is located in the upper part of the trachea and is surrounded by the hypopharynx (the lower part of the throat, where food passes). The larynx has three main functions: creating the voice by vibration of the vocal cords, preventing the entry of food into the lungs when swallowing via the sphincter and allowing air to pass into the lungs when breathing. Throat cancers are mainly found in the vocal cords, but may also be found in the structures close to the vocal cords.


At the IEO larynx cancer is treated by a multidisciplinary team consisting of specialists in:


The most important larynx factor risk factors are tobacco and alcohol, especially the combination of the two. Other possible risk factors include prolonged exposure to wood and metal dusts, asbestos, paint fumes and other chemical solvents. Other factors that seem to play a non-marginal role in the development of laryngeal cancer are a diet low in vitamins A and E, gastro-oesophageal reflux disease that chronically expose throat to acidic gastric juices from the stomach, and infection by human papillomavirus (HPV).  The most common symptoms include dysphonia (change or lowering of the voice that does not improve within 2-3 weeks), and difficulty or persistent discomfort when swallowing. In addition another alarm bell may be the presence of a swelling in the neck (because of a diseased lymph node).

Diagnosis can be made through a clinical and instrumental evaluation (fibre-optic video) in the clinic. If diagnosed early (early stage), it is possible to propose a minimally-invasive laser microsurgery of the mouth in a single operative session, even in day surgery. For tumours at a more advanced stage, diagnosis using biopsy under general anaesthesia is mandatory, in order to define the best treatment proposal.

Ultrasonography, computed tomography (CT), magnetic resonance in selected cases, and PET (or a total body CT) allow proper staging for appropriate care.



Good standards for prevention

  • Adopting a healthy lifestyle, not smoking and limiting alcohol intake.
  • Adopting a few precautions in eating habits: eating fruit, vegetables, and foods rich in carotenoids, such as tomatoes, carrots, sweet and spicy peppers, pumpkins, apricots, herbs (probable evidence).
  • Keeping a careful eye on oral hygiene.
  • Not underestimating any injury of the mouth although small or painless (nodules, small ulcers, white or red patches, growths).
  • After the age of 60 in subjects with risk factors, examination of the oral cavity and pharyngeal-laryngeal district is recommended.
  • Undergoing regular visits, if already affected in the past by a carcinoma of the head and neck regon.

The most common symptoms and signs are small ulcers of the lip or mouth, a white or red spot in the oral mucosa, frequent epistaxis (nosebleeds), nasal respiratory obstruction, hoarseness, persistent sore throat, feeling of closed ears, pain radiating to the ear, blood in sputum, difficulty chewing, swallowing or breathing, numbness of the tongue, painless and persistent swelling in the neck. The durability of these disorders should be considered as an alarm bell; if they have not resolved spontaneously or with treatment within 3 weeks, a specialist should be consulted.


The first approach to treatment is essential. Cure is the main goal, and is considered as important as the quality of life and functionality of the treated organs, such as the voice, language, swallowing, taste and breathing. IEO provides patients with a multidisciplinary team dedicated to diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation

Innovative and minimally invasive therapies: over the years the Division has developed some original techniques and minimally invasive approaches to improve the oncological and functional results of interventions, so that patients have more therapeutic options with less surgical impact. Some of these therapies are available only here in IEO.

Surgery: our head and neck surgeons perform the highest number of operations for malignant tumours each year than any other center in Italy (AGENAS data). Moreover, for more than 20 years we have been conveying the message of Prof Veronesi, that is, "the minimum effective therapy" also for head and neck lesions. We were the first in Italy to offer conservative thyroid surgery, with over 15 years of experience in hemi-thyroidectomy even for malignant tumours. We were among the first to perform endoscopic conservative surgery of the larynx with over 250 procedures a year, we were pioneers in functional tongue surgery allowing a near normal post-op quality of life. Finally, for over 20 years we have been performing very delicate salivary gland surgery. This is the only recognised head and neck surgery department in Italy.

TLM (Transoral Laser Microsurgery) the Division has extensive experience in laser microsurgery of early laryngeal neoplasms, avoiding radiotherapy, which can eventually be proposed at later date if necessary[1]

USGTCB (US-guided transcutaneous tru-cut biopsy) : USGTCB biopsy of laryngeal and the base of the tongue masses is an original technique developed at the IEO over 12 years ago that allows for a minimally invasive diagnosis avoiding general anaesthesia and tracheotomy

[1] Ansarin M, Zabrodsky M, Bianchi L, Renne, G, Tosoni A, Calabrese L, Tredici P, Jereczekfossa BA, Orecchia R, Chiesa F: Endoscopic CO2 laser surgery for early glottic cancer in patients who are candidates for radiotherapy: results of a prospective nonrandomized study. Head Neck 2006 Feb;28(2):121-5.


Our multidisciplinary team is dedicated to the diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation of patients with tumors of the head and neck, and to the study of these diseases. Our team includes over thirty oncology professionals with expertise in various specialties, such as ENT, maxillofacial surgery, emergency surgery, plastic-reconstructive surgery, radiotherapy, medical oncology, radiology, pathology, nuclear medicine, nutrition, physiotherapy, endocrinology, dentistry, voice therapy, speech therapy, psychology, and biology.

 The integration of various skills can address complex clinical problems, from diagnosis and treatment planning, to the functional recovery (speech, breathing, swallowing) in order to achieve the best results with cancer and adequate quality of life. The cervicofacial surgery program consists of the medical-surgical team, Radiotherapy and Medical Oncology specialists, dedicated radiologists, endocrinologists, nuclear physicians and pathologists. The team works in harmony and meets on a weekly basis to discuss cases of patients who trust in our structure. They develop comprehensive personalized care plans considering all aspects of treatment and rehabilitation, considering the different treatment options, taking into account the needs of individual patients in accordance with internal, national and international guidelines.

 The team, in close collaboration with the Scientific and Health Management Board, monitors the results of treatment and the quality of the performances in real time in order to point out critical issues and identify areas for improvement and development. The multidisciplinary meetings are an opportunity for professional development based on the exchanges in the group, the evidence in the literature, and the critical review and update of guidelines as well as diagnostic and therapeutic approaches. The information obtained from the critical review of the clinical activities, from technological innovations, from the study of the evolution of the cancers treated, and from continuous updating are used to identify open issues and propose research activities. Thanks to this approach, clinical research activities and institutional research projects in collaboration with national and international institutions have been put in place.

Larynx Cancers


The treatment of laryngeal cancer depends on the stage and place of occurrence. In tumours at an early stage, the recommended treatment is minimally-invasive surgery (laser microsurgery), that can be performed on an inpatient daily regime, in some cases. 

In advanced stages, therapy is typically multimodal. Cases are discussed in a multidisciplinary team and the most appropriate therapy, which is that giving the greatest assurance of cure with the least functional impairment (e.g. preservation of speech and swallowing), is then offered to the patient. Multimodal therapies may consist in conservative surgery followed by radiotherapy, or chemo-radiotherapy, or chemotherapy alone with the goal of preserving the organ and its functions.

Distant metastases of head and neck carcinoma

Distant metastases are defined as tumor spread to other organs. Lung, liver, and bone are the most common sites for hematogenous metastases of head and neck squamous cell carcinoma. The incidence of distant metastasis in head and neck squamous cell carcinoma is low for the general head and neck squamous cell carcinoma population: generally below 5% at presentation. Head and neck squamous cell carcinoma patients with distant metastases are generally candidates for palliative treatment scenarios only, because currently no systemic therapy has curative potential in head and neck squamous cell carcinoma patients with distant disease. Consequently, extensive locoregional treatment is usually considered futile in these patients. Particular attention is paid to our collaboration with CNAO, National Centre of Oncology Hadrontherapy) for Phase II, the clinical trial on radiotherapy boost, using protons (hadron therapy) for locally advanced tumours of the cervical-cephalic region.


Cancers of the larynx 

The rehabilitation phase after treatment is essential for improving the quality of life. The voice and speech service takes patients into its care before treatment and follows them throughout the rehabilitation process. 

Attention to the patient and his quality of life: since 2003, the department has been equipped with a speech therapy service, one of the best in Italy, which deals with the rehabilitation of swallowing, phonation and the articulation of the word. The division also has a dentistry service that deals with the preparation for surgery and postoperative dental rehabilitation. The IEO also has a physiotherapy service for motor and respiratory rehabilitation and a dietician for the management of nutritional aspects.  Pain management and Psychological support services are also offered. A holistic approach which takes care of all the needs of the patient, allowing a more rapid return to normal life.

Clinical nutrition

Stage and location of the disease, anatomical changes resulting from any surgical procedure, and the acute and late toxicity of chemo-radiotherapy are all factors that may contribute to the impairment of swallowing and create deficiency in the oral protein-calorie intake.

Artificial Nutrition (AN) is indicated in cases of cancers that cause a stenosis (narrowing), severe dysphagia (difficulty in eating that contraindicate oral feeding), or in the case of evident malnutrition or in the patient who, although feeding through the mouth, takes on a calorie-protein amount <50% of nutritional needs. AN must also be started when you expect a period of severe dysphagia longer than 7 days or inadequate intake (<60% of the nutritional requirements) for at least 10 days.

In patients with cancer of the cervical-facial district, Enteral Nutrition (EN) represents the primary route of choice when the gastrointestinal tract is accessible and functioning. It can be performed via nasogastric tube or via Percutaneous Endoscopic Gastrostomy (PEG) or Jejunostomy Nutrition, in case of expected duration of nutritional support greater than 3-4 weeks. EN is effective in containing the decline in body weight, prevent dehydration and interruptions of the radio-chemotherapy treatment, reduce the frequency and duration of hospitalisations, and improve the quality of life.

Adequate nutritional support during radiotherapy treatment can reduce the impact and degree of morbidity (mucositis, odynophagia, dysphagia, xerostomia, dysgeusia, nausea, vomiting, and anorexia), minimise weight loss, preserve the nutritional status, improve the quality of life and optimise by speeding it up the recovery of the patient at the end of treatment.

The use of early and intensive nutritional counseling and oral caloric supplementation have been shown to increase the protein-calorie oral intake, reduce the extent of body weight loss, and reduce the interruptions of the cancer treatment.

In the presence of a sufficiently safe swallowing, oral feeding (using a diet modified in consistency) is the first choice.


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