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Treating Laryngeal and Hypopharyngeal Cancer

If you've been diagnosed with laryngeal or hypopharyngeal cancer, your cancer care team will talk with you about treatment options. Choosing a treatment plan is a major decision, so it's important to take time and think about all of your choices.

Common treatment approaches

Depending on the stage of the cancer and your overall health, different treatment options may be used alone or in combination. In making your treatment plan, 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. A major focus of treatment is to try to save your larynx and voice if possible. Most experts don’t recommend surgery that will totally remove the larynx unless there are no other options.

Who treats laryngeal and hypopharyngeal cancers?

Based on your treatment 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, targeted therapy, or immunotherapy.
  • A plastic surgeon: a doctor who specializes in reconstructing or repairing parts of the body
  • An oral and maxillofacial surgeon: a dental surgeon who treats diseases of the mouth, teeth, and jaws.

A speech therapist, an audiologist, and a dietician are also key players on your cancer care team. You'll meet with them before treatment starts so they can see how well you can swallow and make a nutrition plan for you to follow during treatment. 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. 

Making treatment decisions

It’s important to discuss all treatment options, including their goals and possible side effects, with your doctors to help make the decision that best fits your needs. For instance, if the cancer is too advanced to be cured, the goal may be to remove or destroy as much of the cancer as possible to keep the tumor from growing, spreading, or returning for as long as possible. Some of the treatments 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's not expected to cure the cancer.

It is often a good idea to seek a second opinion. A second opinion can give you more information and help you feel more confident about the treatment plan you choose.

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're 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. 

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 harmful.

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. 

Help getting through cancer treatment

People with cancer need support and information, no matter what stage of illness they may be in. Knowing all of your options and finding the resources you need will help you make informed decisions about your care. 

Whether you are thinking about treatment, getting treatment, or not being treated at all,  you can still get supportive care to help with pain or other symptoms. Communicating with your cancer care team is important so you understand your diagnosis, what treatment is recommended, and ways to maintain or improve your quality of life.  

Different types of programs and support services may be helpful, and can be 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, 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.

Choosing to stop treatment or choosing no treatment at all

For some people, when treatments have been tried and are no longer controlling the cancer, it could be time to weigh the benefits and risks of continuing to try new treatments. Whether or not you continue treatment, there are still things you can do to help maintain or improve your quality of life.

Some people, especially if the cancer is advanced, might not want to be treated at all. There are many reasons you might decide not to get cancer treatment, but it’s important to talk to your doctors and you make that decision. Remember that even if you choose not to treat the cancer, you can still get supportive care to help with pain or other symptoms.

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 your cancer care team any questions you may have about your treatment options.