Laryngeal cancer may spread to cartilage, soft tissues, or lymph nodes in the neck area and to more distant sites, such as the lungs, liver, or bones. Treatment may depend on how far it has spread.

Laryngeal cancer begins in the lower section of the throat, called the larynx, which is the voice box. Laryngeal cancer is a type of head and neck cancer.

Metastasis means cancer cells spread and travel from the original cancer site to another area of the body. The cancer cells break free from the original tumor and form a new tumor in another part of the body.

Metastatic laryngeal cancer is laryngeal cancer that has spread to other areas of the body, away from the larynx. This could be nearby areas, such as the lymph nodes, or distant areas, such as the lungs or bones.

This article focuses on squamous cell carcinoma, the most common type of cancer affecting the larynx. Read on to learn where laryngeal cancer may spread, the survival rates of metastatic laryngeal cancer, its symptoms, treatment, and when to contact a doctor.

A person with laryngeal cancer speaking with a healthcare professional about cancer metastasis.-2Share on Pinterest
jacoblund/Getty Images

According to the Canadian Cancer Society, laryngeal cancer may spread to the following areas of the body:

  • throughout the larynx
  • soft tissues and muscles in the neck
  • lymph nodes in the neck
  • thyroid gland and cartilage
  • cricoid cartilage, which is a ring of cartilage around the windpipe
  • windpipe
  • esophagus
  • vocal cords
  • base of the tongue and tongue muscles
  • pharynx, or throat
  • lungs and the mediastinum, a space between the lungs
  • liver
  • bones

What is the most common metastatic site for laryngeal cancer?

According to a 2021 study, the lungs are the most common site for metastatic laryngeal cancer, as well as other head and neck cancers.

This study, and a lot of other research, focuses on squamous cell carcinoma, which is the most common type of laryngeal cancer.

The 2021 study highlights research from 2017 that looked at 1,022 people with oropharyngeal squamous cell carcinoma. The cancer had spread to the lungs in 110 of the people, accounting for 78% of all distant metastatic sites.

Other research discussed in the 2021 study found that lung metastasis occurred in 62.6% of distant metastatic sites with laryngeal squamous cell carcinoma.

Five-year relative survival rates use data about how many people were alive 5 years after a cancer diagnosis to predict the likelihood of surviving for the same period with various types of cancer.

The American Cancer Society (ACS) provides the following 5-year relative survival rates for people with a laryngeal cancer diagnosis between 2012 and 2018.

Survival rates vary depending on the exact area of the larynx the cancer began in. This includes:

  • supraglottis, the top part of the larynx and above the vocal cords
  • glottis, the middle section of the larynx, which includes the vocal cords
  • subglottis, the bottom part of the larynx, below the vocal cords and above the windpipe

For these types of laryngeal cancer which have spread to distant areas of the body, the survival rates are as follows:

Subglottis44% (from a small amount of data)

Symptoms of advanced laryngeal cancer may include:

People may experience different symptoms depending on where the cancer spreads.

If laryngeal cancer has spread to the lymph nodes, people may notice a lump or mass growing in the neck.

If laryngeal cancer does not start on the vocal cords, a change in voice or hoarseness may mean the cancer has spread there.

Symptoms of metastatic cancer in other areas of the body may include:

Learn more about the early and late symptoms of laryngeal cancer.

Treatment for metastatic laryngeal cancer may depend on how far the cancer has spread. If it has spread to distant sites, surgery to remove the affected area may not be an option.

If the cancer has only spread to the lymph nodes, doctors may suggest surgery to remove the larynx and lymph nodes.

Other treatment options may include chemotherapy, immunotherapy, or targeted therapy. People may have radiation therapy by itself or with chemotherapy or cetuximab (Erbitux), a type of targeted therapy.

Doctors may decide to use chemoradiation, which is chemotherapy and radiation as a combination treatment, before surgery for advanced laryngeal cancer.

They may also use chemotherapy alone to try and shrink a tumor. If chemoradiation does not completely get rid of the cancer, doctors may then use surgery.

People with advanced laryngeal cancer may also want to speak with a doctor about taking part in clinical trials, which may be investigating new treatment options.

People will need to contact a doctor if they have any symptoms of laryngeal cancer, including a persistent sore throat, hoarseness, or changes to the voice that do not improve after 2 weeks.

If people have laryngeal cancer, they will need to contact a doctor if they notice any new symptoms or symptoms that may indicate advanced stages of laryngeal cancer, such as:

  • pain
  • breathing or swallowing difficulties
  • shortness of breath
  • a lump or mass in the neck
  • unexplained weight loss
  • jaundice, which is a yellowing of the eyes and skin
  • fractures or bone pain
  • headaches
  • dizziness
  • seizures

Laryngeal cancer begins in the larynx but may spread to other areas of the body, including the neck, lymph nodes, and the lungs, liver, or bones.

Pain, difficulty swallowing, and breathing difficulties may indicate advanced laryngeal cancer. Metastatic cancer that affects the bones or certain organs may cause additional symptoms, such as fractures or jaundice.

Treatment for metastatic laryngeal cancer may include surgery, if possible, or radiation therapy, chemotherapy, targeted therapy, and immunotherapy.