If laryngeal cancer is diagnosed, your doctor needs to learn the extent (stage) of the disease to help you choose the best treatment. When laryngeal cancer spreads, cancer cells may be found in the lymph nodes in the neck or in other tissues of the neck. Cancer cells can also spread to the lungs, liver, bones, and other parts of the body.
To learn whether laryngeal cancer has invaded nearby tissues or spread, your doctor may order one or more tests:
- Chest x-ray: An x-ray of your chest can show a lung tumor.
- CT scan: An x-ray machine linked to a computer takes a series of detailed pictures of your neck, chest, or abdomen. You may receive an injection of contrast material so your lymph nodes show up clearly in the pictures. CT scans of the chest and abdomen can show cancer in the lymph nodes, lungs, or elsewhere.
- MRI: A large machine with a strong magnet linked to a computer is used to make detailed pictures of your neck, chest, or abdomen. MRI can show cancer in the blood vessels, lymph nodes, or other tissues in the abdomen.
When cancer spreads from its original place to another part of the body, the new tumor has the same kind of abnormal cells and the same name as the primary (original) tumor. For example, if laryngeal cancer spreads to a lung, the cancer cells in the lung are actually laryngeal cancer cells. The disease is metastatic laryngeal cancer, not lung cancer. It’s treated as laryngeal cancer, not as lung cancer. Doctors sometimes call the new tumor “distant” disease.
Doctors describe the stage of laryngeal cancer based on the size of the tumor, whether the vocal cords move normally, whether the cancer has invaded nearby tissues, and whether the cancer has spread to other parts of the body:
- Early cancer: Stage 0, I, or II laryngeal cancer is usually a small tumor, and cancer cells are rarely found in lymph nodes.
- Advanced cancer: Stage III or IV laryngeal cancer is a tumor that has invaded nearby tissues or spread to lymph nodes or other parts of the body. Or the cancer is only in the larynx, but the tumor prevents the vocal cords from moving normally.