Dr. Tjoa uses a few methods to diagnose and effectively manage vocal cord cancer.
The vocal cords are located in the voice box (larynx), which is right below the throat (pharynx). The medical term for cancer that affects the vocal cords and voice box is laryngeal cancer. Vocal cord cancer is a form of throat cancer that occurs when cells in the throat do the following:
While the exact cause of most cancers is not yet completely understood, several risk factors have been identified. Patients with any of the following circumstances are at a higher risk for developing vocal cord cancer:
Heavy smoking or other excessive usage of tobacco products
Poor diet lacking in adequate consumption of fruits and vegetables
Excessive alcohol use
Diagnosis of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
Diagnosis of human papillomavirus (HPV)
Symptoms of Vocal Cord Cancer
The symptoms of vocal cord cancer usually start out mildly and become more severe as the cancer progresses. Some of the symptoms that may indicate the presence of vocal cord cancer include:
Sore, irritated throat
Abnormal voice changes and hoarseness
Trouble with swallowing
Shortness of breath
Appearance of a lump or mass in the neck
A sore in the throat that is not healing
Pain that radiates into the ear
Unexplained weight loss
Any patient experiencing these symptoms persistently should see a physician for evaluation and a diagnosis.
How Vocal Cord Cancer is Diagnosed
If a patient displays symptoms of vocal cord cancer, the doctor will use any of several methods to diagnose the condition. This may involve any or all of the following diagnostic procedures:
A thorough evaluation of all the patient’s symptoms
Imaging tests such as CT scans, PET scans, x-rays, or MRI
Laryngoscopy (insertion of a small magnifying lens into the larynx to examine the vocal cords directly)
Biopsy (removing a small sample of tissue for lab testing to determine the presence of cancer)
If vocal cord cancer is diagnosed, further testing will help the doctor determine the severity of it. This will help decide the best treatment options for the patient.
Treating Vocal Cord Cancer
There are several medical treatment options for patients with vocal cord cancer depending on the size and stage of the cancerous growths that are present. Obviously, early detection of vocal cord cancer leads to better outcomes for the patient.
Vocal cord cancer that is diagnosed at an early stage is commonly treated with a round of radiation therapy and possibly a low-risk laser surgery to remove the cancerous growths from the vocal cords.
More advanced vocal cord cancer with the presentation of larger growths will require more aggressive and invasive treatments. Larger cancers are often treated with a combination of both radiation therapy and chemotherapy drugs in an attempt to kill the cancer cells and stop their growth. In severe cases, an invasive surgery, called a laryngectomy, to remove part or all of the voice box may be necessary. Depending on how much of the larynx has to be removed, the patient’s voice will likely be affected. Further surgeries may be required to facilitate breathing and speaking abilities following a laryngectomy.
Any patient who has had a diagnosis of vocal cord cancer and underwent treatment for the condition will need to regularly follow up with a physician.