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Serious Medicine. Extraordinary Care.

What to Know About Surgery for Laryngeal Cancer

Portrait of a female doctor in a surgery suite

The type of surgical procedure you need depends on the size and location of the tumor. Your doctor will explain the type to you. Ask how the surgery will affect your ability to speak. These are the main types of surgery.

Laser surgery. The laser is a powerful beam of light. The doctor may use this type of surgery if a tumor on your vocal cord is very small. The laser works like a knife to remove the tumor.

Partial or total laryngectomy. This is surgery to remove all or part of your larynx. In both operations, the surgeon performs a tracheostomy, making an opening called a stoma in the front of your neck. This is either temporary or permanent. Air enters and leaves your lungs through this opening. A tube called a tracheostomy tube or trach tube keeps the new airway open.

  • A partial laryngectomy preserves your voice. The surgeon removes only part of your voice box, one vocal cord, part of a cord, or the epiglottis. The epiglottis is the flap that covers your trachea during swallowing so that food does not enter your lungs. After a short recovery time, the doctor removes the trach tube and the stoma closes up. Although your voice may be hoarse and weak, you can breathe and talk.

  • In a total laryngectomy, the doctor removes your entire voice box and the stoma is permanent. You will breathe through the stoma and must learn to talk in a new way. Certain devices can help those who have a total laryngectomy so that they can be understood.

Lymph node removal. If the cancer seems to have spread to your neck, the doctor may remove the lymph nodes in your neck and some of the tissue near the lymph nodes.

Supraglottic laryngectomy. In this surgery, the doctor removes your supraglottis only, which is the area above the vocal cords.

Hemilaryngectomy. In this surgery, the doctor removes just half of your voice box. This procedure saves your voice.

Cordectomy. In this surgery, the doctor only removes your vocal cords.

Thyroidectomy. In this surgery, the doctor removes all or part of your thyroid gland.