The larynx (or voice box) is an organ in the front of the neck. Learn more with this 3D animation.

What is laryngeal cancer?

Cancer occurs when cells become abnormal, grow uncontrollably and have the potential to spread to other parts of the body. These cells build up to form a mass (or lump). 

There are many types of tumours (lumps) that occur in the larynx. Many of these are not cancers but are what doctors call ‘growths’ or ‘lesions’. Common examples include vocal cord nodules or papillomas.

What causes laryngeal cancer?

Doctors often can’t explain why a person gets cancer. But we do know what makes some cancers more likely.

The two main causes of laryngeal cancer are:
  • smoking (cigarettes, cigars or pipes) or using ‘smokeless’ tobacco (snuff and chewing tobacco) If a person smokes or has smoked in the past, they have a higher risk of getting laryngeal cancer than someone who has never smoked. 

  • drinking alcohol. If a person drinks a lot of alcohol over many years, they have a higher risk of getting laryngeal cancer, especially combined with smoking.

Other factors that may increase the risk of laryngeal cancer are: 
Being male – in Australia men are almost three times more likely than women to get laryngeal cancer
Age – most laryngeal cancers occur in people aged 55 years and over
Family history - those who have close family members with laryngeal cancer (a parent, sibling, or child) have a higher risk of getting laryngeal cancer  
Low immunitye.g. if you take medications to suppress the immune system
Exposure to asbestos- people who have lived or worked in an environment that has exposed them to asbestos have a higher risk of developing laryngeal cancer