New Treatment Options are Available for Laryngeal Cancer

Laryngleal Cancer Treatment

Researchers are using new, individualized approaches to improve treatment and survival rates of laryngeal cancer.

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In 2016, there were 13,430 new cases of laryngeal cancer in the United States. Laryngeal cancer is a disease in which malignant cells form in the tissues of the larynx, the part of the throat located between the base of the tongue and the trachea (the windpipe). The larynx contains the vocal cords, which vibrate to make sound.

There are 3 main parts of the larynx:
• Supraglottis: The upper part of the larynx above the vocal cords, including the epiglottis.
• Glottis: The middle part of the larynx where the vocal cords are located.
• Subglottis: The lower part of the larynx between the vocal cords and the trachea (windpipe).

Factors that increase your risk of developing laryngeal cancer include smoking and alcohol use.

Medical treatment options for laryngeal cancer has improved for patients, particularly if the cancer is caught early. But do all patients need the most aggressive of treatments – such as the complete removal of the larynx?

The head and neck oncology team at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center have been testing a new approach to laryngeal cancer treatment: Give patients a single dose of chemotherapy and see who responds. This is often called “induction chemotherapy” in the oncology world.

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The responders can continue with a combination of chemotherapy and radiation while non-responders can be referred directly to surgery. The theory is that if they do not respond after the first dose, it is unlikely that the chemo would be effective.

Dr. Gregory T Wolf MD says that they have found “exceptional” survival rates utilizing this approach – nearing 80% for even the most advanced patients. "We need to pick individual therapies more carefully,” he says. “In trying to match the biology of the tumor to the treatment, all of the patients get better outcomes.”

"This approach allows us to enhance quality of life for all of our patients. Many patients can spare their voice box by having chemotherapy and radiation. But that's only good if the treatment works. For patients who must go on to receive surgery, by selecting them up front, we can spare them the complications that may occur when the voice box is removed following multiple cycles of chemotherapy with radiation," adds study author Francis Worden, M.D., professor of hematology/oncology.

Journal Reference:
Gregory T. Wolf, Francis P. Worden et al. Survival Rates Using Individualized Bioselection Treatment Methods in Patients With Advanced Laryngeal Cancer. JAMA Otolaryngology–Head & Neck Surgery, 2017; DOI: 10.1001/jamaoto.2016.3669

Additional Resources:
Merck Manual
National Cancer Institute

Photo Credit:
By Henry Vandyke Carter - Henry Gray (1918) Anatomy of the Human Body

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