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Cancer of the Larynx

  • Posted: 01/21/2011

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The Larynx


The larynx is an organ in your throat. It’s at the front of your neck.

This organ is about 2 inches (5 centimeters) wide, which is about the size of a lime.

The larynx is also called the voice box. It has two bands of muscle that form the vocal cords. The cartilage at the front of the larynx is sometimes called the Adam’s apple.

The larynx has three main parts:

  • Top: The top part of the larynx is the supraglottis.
  • Middle: The middle part is the glottis. Your vocal cords are in this part.
  • Bottom: The bottom part is the subglottis. It connects to the windpipe (trachea).
This picture shows the main parts of the larynx—the supraglottis, glottis, and subglottis. This picture shows the main parts of the larynx—the supraglottis, glottis, and subglottis.
This picture shows how the larynx looks from above. This is what the doctor can see with a mirror. This picture shows how the larynx looks from above. This is what the doctor can see with a mirror.

Your larynx opens or closes to allow you to breathe, talk, or swallow:

  • Breathing: When you hold your breath, your vocal cords shut tightly. When you let out your breath or breathe in, your vocal cords relax and open.
  • Talking: Your larynx makes the sound of your voice. When you talk, your vocal cords tighten and move closer together. Air from your lungs is forced between the cords and makes them vibrate. The vibration makes the sound. Your tongue, lips, and teeth form this sound into words.
  • Swallowing: Your larynx protects your lungs from food and liquid. When you swallow, a flap called the epiglottis covers the opening of your larynx to keep food and liquid out of your lungs. The picture below shows how food or liquid passes through the esophagus on its way from the mouth to the stomach.
This picture shows the larynx and the normal paths for air and food. This picture shows the larynx and the normal paths for air and food.

This text may be reproduced or reused freely. Please credit the National Cancer Institute as the source. Any graphics may be owned by the artist or publisher who created them, and permission may be needed for their reuse.