No one knows the exact causes of cancer of the larynx. Doctors cannot explain why one person gets this disease and another does not. We do know that cancer is not contagious. You cannot “catch” cancer from another person.
People with certain risk factors are more likely to get cancer of the larynx. A risk factor is anything that increases your chance of developing this disease.
Studies have found the following risk factors:
- Age: Cancer of the larynx occurs most often in people over the age of 55.
- Gender: Men are four times more likely than women to get cancer of the larynx.
- Race: African Americans are more likely than whites to be diagnosed with cancer of the larynx.
- Smoking: Smokers are far more likely than nonsmokers to get cancer of the larynx. The risk is even higher for smokers who drink alcohol heavily.
People who stop smoking can greatly decrease their risk of cancer of the larynx, as well as cancer of the lung, mouth, pancreas, bladder, and esophagus. Also, quitting smoking reduces the chance that someone with cancer of the larynx will get a second cancer in the head and neck region. (Cancer of the larynx is part of a group of cancers called head and neck cancers.)
- Alcohol: People who drink alcohol are more likely to develop laryngeal cancer than people who don’t drink. The risk increases with the amount of alcohol that is consumed. The risk also increases if the person drinks alcohol and also smokes tobacco.
- A personal history of head and neck cancer: Almost one in four people who have had head and neck cancer will develop a second primary head and neck cancer.
- Occupation: Workers exposed to sulfuric acid mist or nickel have an increased risk of laryngeal cancer. Also, working with asbestos can increase the risk of this disease. Asbestos workers should follow work and safety rules to avoid inhaling asbestos fibers.
Other studies suggest that having certain viruses or a diet low in vitamin A may increase the chance of getting cancer of the larynx. Another risk factor is having gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), which causes stomach acid to flow up into the esophagus.
Most people who have these risk factors do not get cancer of the larynx. If you are concerned about your chance of getting cancer of the larynx, you should discuss this concern with your health care provider. Your health care provider may suggest ways to reduce your risk and can plan an appropriate schedule for checkups.