Cancer of the larynx is not free of complications; complications can be due either to the cancer itself or its treatment. Some laryngeal cancer complications include:
Metastasis – the cancer can spread to other parts of your body such as the cervical lymph nodes to form new cancer. In severe cases, the cancer can spread into the lungs through the blood stream.
Airway obstruction – the tumor can block the airways and make your breathing difficult. Besides the cancer, the treatment itself can cause respiratory problems. If you had a total removal of the larynx, you will need a tracheostomy to maintain respiration.
Deformation of the throat and neck – certain surgical intervention in the neck to remove the tumor and surrounding tissue can lead to some distortion of the throat and neck. The operation can make the movement of your neck difficult. In addition, a tracheostomy may leave a permanent opening (stoma) in your neck.
Difficulty eating – in most cases, after surgery, you will have difficulty swallowing foods of a certain consistency. In addition, if you have radiotherapy treatment, you may experience difficulty swallowing or even chewing.
Loss of voice – the removal of the larynx can affect your vocal chords and prevent you from speaking normally. Fortunately, there are methods that are used to help patients facing these problems:
- Esophageal speech (or voice) – this alternate method allows you to vocalize without the oscillation in your vocal cords; it involves swallowing air and expelling it to produce sounds. Esophageal speech is the basic method to replace the normal voice; however, you will need a speech therapist at the beginning to help you become familiar with the technique.
- Tracheoesophageal (TE) voice prosthesis – this technique involves placing a small valve between the trachea and esophagus. It allows you to produce TE speech by shunting air from the lungs into the esophagus, which vibrate the esophageal tissue. This medicaldevice is usually recommended by a laryngologist or a speech-language pathologist for voice rehabilitation following a total laryngectomy.
- Electrolarynx – this is an electronic device used to produce clearer speech by those who have lost their original voicebox, usually due to cancer of the larynx. Held near the skin of the throat or the corner of the mouth, the device produces a mechanical voice that helps the wearer communicate in a comfortable and familiar way.