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Laryngeal Cancer

Causes of Laryngeal Cancer

As with most cancers, doctors can’t tell you with certainty what causes laryngeal cancer. It’s a combination of genetic factors and factors in your environment.

By far the most common factor contributing to laryngeal cancer is using tobacco, particularly smoking it. Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol also contributes to the risk of developing cancer of the larynx.

Risk factors that can increase your chance of getting larynx cancer include:

  • Tobacco: Smoking cigarettes, cigars or pipes and using chewing tobacco greatly increase your chance of getting a laryngeal cancer.1, Muscat JE, Wynder EL. Tobacco, alcohol, asbestos, and occupational risk factors for laryngeal cancer. Cancer. May 1 1992;69(9):2244-2251.2 Lewin F, Norell SE, Johansson H, et al. Smoking tobacco, oral snuff, and alcohol in the etiology of squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck: a population-based case-referent study in Sweden. Cancer. Apr 1 1998;82(7):1367-1375.
  • Alcohol: Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol is also very strongly related to getting laryngeal cancer. Moreover, if you both smoke and drink heavily, the risk more than doubles.1, Muscat JE, Wynder EL. Tobacco, alcohol, asbestos, and occupational risk factors for laryngeal cancer. Cancer. May 1 1992;69(9):2244-2251.2 Lewin F, Norell SE, Johansson H, et al. Smoking tobacco, oral snuff, and alcohol in the etiology of squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck: a population-based case-referent study in Sweden. Cancer. Apr 1 1998;82(7):1367-1375.
  • Exposure to radiation in the past: Being exposed to radiation as part of a natural disaster, treatment for another disease a long time ago or even through work can increase the chances of some laryngeal cancers.3 Lynch HT, Mulcahy GM, Harris RE, Guirgis HA, Lynch JF. Genetic and pathologic findings in a kindred with hereditary sarcoma, breast cancer, brain tumors, leukemia, lung, laryngeal, and adrenal cortical carcinoma. Cancer. May 1978;41(5):2055-2064.

Other factors that have been associated with developing cancer of the larynx include:

  • Smoking marijuana
  • Possibly second-hand smoke
  • History of juvenile HPV infection (called recurrent respiratory papillomatosis, or RRP): This is an infection in children that leads to recurrent warts in the airway. Children with this problem require frequent surgeries to prevent the warts from blocking the airway. Fortunately, in most cases the problem gets much less severe after puberty. Rarely, these patients can develop squamous cell carcinoma associated with the RRP.4 Katsenos S, Becker HD. Recurrent respiratory papillomatosis: a rare chronic disease, difficult to treat, with potential to lung cancer transformation: apropos of two cases and a brief literature review. Case Rep Oncol. 2011 Mar 23;4(1):162-71.
  • Exposure to metal, plastics, paint, wood dust and asbestos at work5 Burch JD, Howe GR, Miller AB, Semenciw R. Tobacco, alcohol, asbestos, and nickel in the etiology of cancer of the larynx: a case-control study. Journal of the National Cancer Institute. Dec 1981;67(6):1219-1224.
  • Plummer-Vinson Syndrome (especially for hypopharyngeal and cervical esophageal cancer): This is a condition, more common in women, that is associated with low iron and low blood counts (anemia), along with webs of tissues in the throat that cause difficulty with swallowing.6Referenced with permission from The NCCN Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology (NCCN Guidelines®) for Esophageal and Esophagogastric Junction Cancers V.2.2016. © National Comprehensive Cancer Network, Inc 2016. All rights reserved. Accessed December 7, 2016. To view the most recent and complete version of the guideline, go online to www.nccn.org.
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD): Though GERD has not been proven to be a cause of throat cancers, multiple studies have shown an association between “acid reflux” and throat cancer.7, El-Serag HB, Hepworth EJ, Lee P, Sonnenberg A. Gastroesophageal reflux disease is a risk factor for laryngeal and pharyngeal cancer. Am J Gastroenterol. Jul 2001;96(7):2013-8.8 Vaezi MF, Qadeer MA, Lopez R, Colabianchi N. Laryngeal cancer and gastroesophageal reflux disease: a case-control study. Am J Med. Sep 2006;119(9):768-76.
References

1 Muscat JE, Wynder EL. Tobacco, alcohol, asbestos, and occupational risk factors for laryngeal cancer. Cancer. May 1 1992;69(9):2244-2251.

2 Lewin F, Norell SE, Johansson H, et al. Smoking tobacco, oral snuff, and alcohol in the etiology of squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck: a population-based case-referent study in Sweden. Cancer. Apr 1 1998;82(7):1367-1375.

3 Lynch HT, Mulcahy GM, Harris RE, Guirgis HA, Lynch JF. Genetic and pathologic findings in a kindred with hereditary sarcoma, breast cancer, brain tumors, leukemia, lung, laryngeal, and adrenal cortical carcinoma. Cancer. May 1978;41(5):2055-2064.

4 Katsenos S, Becker HD. Recurrent respiratory papillomatosis: a rare chronic disease, difficult to treat, with potential to lung cancer transformation: apropos of two cases and a brief literature review. Case Rep Oncol. 2011 Mar 23;4(1):162-71.

5 Burch JD, Howe GR, Miller AB, Semenciw R. Tobacco, alcohol, asbestos, and nickel in the etiology of cancer of the larynx: a case-control study. Journal of the National Cancer Institute. Dec 1981;67(6):1219-1224.

6 Referenced with permission from The NCCN Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology (NCCN Guidelines®) for Esophageal and Esophagogastric Junction Cancers V.2.2016. © National Comprehensive Cancer Network, Inc 2016. All rights reserved. Accessed December 7, 2016. To view the most recent and complete version of the guideline, go online to www.nccn.org.

7 El-Serag HB, Hepworth EJ, Lee P, Sonnenberg A. Gastroesophageal reflux disease is a risk factor for laryngeal and pharyngeal cancer. Am J Gastroenterol. Jul 2001;96(7):2013-8.

8 Vaezi MF, Qadeer MA, Lopez R, Colabianchi N. Laryngeal cancer and gastroesophageal reflux disease: a case-control study. Am J Med. Sep 2006;119(9):768-76.

9 Hoare TJ, Thomson HG, Proops DW. Detection of laryngeal cancer--the case for early specialist assessment. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine. Jul 1993;86(7):390-392.

10 Spiro RH, Thaler HT, Hicks WF, Kher UA, Huvos AH, Strong EW. The importance of clinical staging of minor salivary gland carcinoma. Am J Surg. 1991 Oct;162(4):330-6.

11 Krause CJ, Carey TE, Ott RW, Hurbis C, McClatchey KD, Regezi JA. Human squamous cell carcinoma. Establishment and characterization of new permanent cell lines. Arch Otolaryngol. Nov 1981;107(11):703-710.

12 Referenced with permission from The NCCN Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology (NCCN Guidelines®) for Head and Neck Cancers V.2.2016. ©National Comprehensive Cancer Network, Inc 2016. All rights reserved. Accessed December 7, 2016. To view the most recent and complete version of the guideline, go online to www.nccn.org.

13 Mantravadi RV, Liebner EJ, Haas RE, Skolnik EM, Applebaum EL. Cancer of the glottis: prognostic factors in radiation therapy. Radiology. Oct 1983;149(1):311-314.

14 Bocca E. Supraglottic cancer. Laryngoscope. Aug 1975;85(8):1318-1326.

15 Edge SB, et al. The AJCC Cancer Staging Manual – Seventh Edition. American Joint Committee on Cancer 2010.

16 Piccirillo JF, Costas I. Chapter 8: Cancer of the Larynx. Ries LAG, Young JL, Keel GE, Eisner MP, Lin YD, Horner M-J (editors). SEER Survival Monograph: Cancer Survival Among Adults: U.S. SEER Program, 1988-2001, Patient and Tumor Characteristics. National Cancer Institute, SEER Program, NIH Pub. No. 07-6215, Bethesda, MD, 2007.