Treating Laryngeal and Hypopharyngeal Cancer

General treatment information

Once your cancer is diagnosed and staged, your cancer care team will discuss your treatment options with you. Choosing a treatment plan is a major decision, so it is important to take time and think about all of your choices.

In creating your treatment plan, the most important factors to consider are the site and the stage (extent) of the cancer. Your cancer care team will also take into account your general health and your personal preferences.

Treatment for laryngeal or hypopharyngeal cancer may include:

Depending on the stage of the cancer and your overall health, different treatment options may be used alone or in combination. See Treating laryngeal and hypopharyngeal cancers by stage for common treatment plans.

Based on these options, you might have different types of doctors on your treatment team. These doctors can include:

  • An otolaryngologist (also known as an ear, nose, and throat, or ENT doctor): a surgeon who treats certain diseases of the head and neck.
  • A radiation oncologist: a doctor who treats cancer with radiation therapy.
  • A medical oncologist: a doctor who treats cancer with medicines such as chemotherapy.

Many other specialists could be involved in your care as well, including physician assistants, nurse practitioners, nurses, nutrition specialists, speech therapists, social workers, and other health professionals.

It is important to discuss all of your treatment options, including their goals and possible side effects, with your doctors to help make the decision that best fits your needs. It’s also very important to ask questions if there is anything you’re not sure about. You can find some good questions to ask in the section What should you ask your doctor about laryngeal or hypopharyngeal cancer?

If time permits, it is often a good idea to seek a second opinion. A second opinion can provide you with more information and help you feel confident about the treatment plan you choose.

A major consideration in all treatments is to try to save your larynx and voice whenever possible. Most experts don’t recommend surgery that will totally remove the larynx unless there are no other options.

If the cancer is too advanced to be cured, the goal may be to remove or destroy as much of the cancer as reasonable to keep the tumor from growing, spreading, or returning for as long as possible.

Some of the treatments above can also be used as palliative treatment if all the cancer cannot be removed. Palliative treatment is meant to relieve symptoms, such as pain or trouble swallowing, but it is not expected to cure the cancer.

No matter which type of treatment you get, it is important for you to understand the goals of treatment beforehand. Be sure to discuss this with your doctor so you will have an idea of what to expect.

Thinking about taking part in a clinical trial

Clinical trials are carefully controlled research studies that are done to get a closer look at promising new treatments or procedures. Clinical trials are one way to get state-of-the art cancer treatment. In some cases they may be the only way to get access to newer treatments. They are also the best way for doctors to learn better methods to treat cancer. Still, they are not right for everyone.

If you would like to learn more about clinical trials that might be right for you, start by asking your doctor if your clinic or hospital conducts clinical trials. You can also call our clinical trials matching service at 1-800-303-5691 for a list of studies that meet your medical needs, or see the Clinical Trials section to learn more.

Considering complementary and alternative methods

You may hear about alternative or complementary methods that your doctor hasn’t mentioned to treat your cancer or relieve symptoms. These methods can include vitamins, herbs, and special diets, or other methods such as acupuncture or massage, to name a few.

Complementary methods refer to treatments that are used along with your regular medical care. Alternative treatments are used instead of a doctor’s medical treatment. Although some of these methods might be helpful in relieving symptoms or helping you feel better, many have not been proven to work. Some might even be dangerous.

Be sure to talk to your cancer care team about any method you are thinking about using. They can help you learn what is known (or not known) about the method, which can help you make an informed decision. See the Complementary and Alternative Medicine section to learn more.

Help getting through cancer treatment

Your cancer care team will be your first source of information and support, but there are other resources for help when you need it. Hospital- or clinic-based support services are an important part of your care. These might include nursing or social work services, financial aid, nutritional advice, rehab, or spiritual help.

The American Cancer Society also has programs and services – including rides to treatment, lodging, support groups, and more – to help you get through treatment. Call our National Cancer Information Center at 1-800-227-2345 and speak with one of our trained specialists on call 24 hours a day, every day.

The treatment information given here is not official policy of the American Cancer Society and is not intended as medical advice to replace the expertise and judgment of your cancer care team. It is intended to help you and your family make informed decisions, together with your doctor. Your doctor may have reasons for suggesting a treatment plan different from these general treatment options. Don't hesitate to ask him or her questions about your treatment options.