LARYNX CANCER TREATMENT INFORMATION
What is the Larynx?The larynx is the upper portion of the windpipe ("trachea") which has a two main functions:conducting air down into the lungs, and producing speech in humans. The human larynx iscomposed of 3 areas: supraglottis, glottis, and subglottis. Theglottis is literally the "voicebox"and contains the paired vocal cords. The subglottis extends about 1/2" below the glottis, whilethe supraglottis extends about 2 inches above the vocal cords. The epiglottis, which is a flap of flesh that folds down over the trachea to protect the lungs during swallowing, is part of thesupraglottis. The whole larynx is in front of the foodpipe ("esophagus") and is just behind theskin of the throat.Placing a finger directly under the "Adams apple" (which is a movable bone in the neck calledthe hyoid) and humming allows you to feel the vocal cords vibrating right under your finger.Only a thin membrane and the skin of the neck separate the vocal cords from your finger at this point; doctors use it as a landmark to insert an emergency air tube ("cricothyrotomy") insituations where a patient's upper airway is blocked. The area of the vocal cords is the narrowest part of the airway and the easiest to block by tumor or an object swallowed "the wrong way".All the air we breath in and out all passes over the vocal cords, which come together to raise the pitch of our voice. A special muscle connects to the vocal cords to tighten them; cancers caninvade this muscle and then limit the action ("mobility") of the vocal cords. An important nerve("recurrent laryngeal") supplies this muscle that tightens the vocal cords; cancer invading thenerve can also paralyze the cords. When the cords don't move properly, it's crucial to know why.The supraglottis and subglottis have an extensive network of draining glands ("lymph channels")which carry tissue fluids to bean sized lymph glands in the neck where they are filtered and purified before being returned to the bloodstream.Cancer cells can break off and travel through these the lymph channels, and into the bloodstream.The true vocal cords do not have any draining glands, so cancers starting on the vocal cords tendto spread more slowly than those originating above or below the vocal cords. Two plates of cartilage (thyroid and cricoid) protect the upper and lower larynx, but as mentioned don't extendover the front of the vocal cords. Cancers that spread locally can invade into cartilage. Morerarely, they can invade into the esophagus lying behind the larynx. The larger the cancer, themore risk of distant spread.What Is Larynx Cancer?Larynx cancer simply means one that started in the larynx proper, as described above. The larynxis lined with cells which grow rapidly before birth and during childhood through puberty. In theadult, however, new cell production is under very tight control. New cells are produced bydivision of older ones to replace those lost due to old age and injury. The genetic material insidethe cell (the "genes" made up of DNA) instructs the cell through the division process. Normally,if the genes are damaged, the cell won't divide at all. However, due to particular types of genedamage, the cell may start dividing out of control. Cancer starts in a single cell, when it startsdividing out of control. When cells divide rapidly, they form a clump of cells known as a tumor.