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Laryngeal Cancer and Asbestos

There are multiple causes for laryngeal cancer (also sometimes referred to as throat cancer), and prolonged exposure to the mineral asbestos is one of them. Laryngeal cancer is a disease where malignant tumors develop in larynx tissues. The larynx occupies the throat and can be found between the base of the tongue and the trachea. The larynx is also referred to as the “voice box” because it houses the vocal cords.

The “voice box” consists of three primary components:

Supraglottis

Above the vocal cords in the upper larynx, you can find the supraglottis and epiglottis.

Glottis

This area takes up the middle larynx and shares space with the vocal cords.

Sublottis

Also known as the windpipe, the subglottis occupies the lower larynx between the trachea and vocal cords.

Larynx cancer can form when asbestos fibers are disturbed and inhaled or ingested by workers or residents nearby. The mineral was used for decades in construction and building projects worldwide due to its heat resistance and exceptional insulation properties. Only recently did researchers discover that prolonged exposure to asbestos-caused cancer and other illnesses. This is mainly because the latency period (time for the disease to develop) is over 40 years in some cases. Primary diseases caused by this harmful substance are mesothelioma and lung cancer. Still, if the mineral’s toxic fibers get swallowed, laryngeal cancer can also develop.

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Jobs at Risk for Asbestos Exposure

Employees that work in industries and trades involving the breaking down of specific materials that may contain asbestos are at high risk for asbestos exposure. This can include construction workers, demolition crews, miners, millers, plumbers, drywallers, tilers, and shipyard workers, to name a few. Before the mineral was a known carcinogen (cancer-causing substance), even the United States Military utilized asbestos in the construction of military vehicles, ships, barracks, tools, and equipment. This puts service members, veterans, and military personnel at higher risk for exposure as well.

Legal Protection for Workers

After the mineral was banned and states began imposing their own asbestos regulations to protect workers, those exposed who’ve developed illness have a right to take legal action. Laws and regulations against the mineral are put in place to ensure the owners, managers, and contractors are held responsible for adequately removing the toxin from their structures before allowing people to work or reside there. If you develop an asbestos condition from an exposure that happened during employment, you could be owed monetary compensation from the companies responsible for the incident.

Types of Laryngeal Cancer

Throat cancer has multiple subtypes that are classified by the cells tumors grow in. More rare types of the disease are lymphoepithelioma, spindle cell carcinoma, verrucous cancer, and cancers in the lymph nodes, also called lymphomas.

The main subtypes of laryngeal cancer are:

Adenocarcinoma

When tumors form in the mucous-producing glands of the throat, they are adenocarcinomas. This subtype also occurs for other cancers in different regions of the body that contain glandular cells.

Sarcoma

A rare version of throat cancer that grows in the neck’s muscle tissues.

Squamous Cell Carcinoma

This is the most common laryngeal cancer. Squamous cell carcinoma of the larynx is classified by cancer growing in the thin, flat cells that line the larynx. These cells look like fish scales under a microscope.

Recurrent Laryngeal Cancer

When cancer is “recurrent,” this means that curative treatment (treatment intended to completely remove the tumors) was already performed and that malignant cancer cells are growing again.

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Symptoms and Diagnosis

Level of symptoms increases at later stages of laryngeal cancer. Some people may not notice symptoms until the third or fourth stage of the disease, so it’s essential to recognize them early on.

Common symptoms of throat cancer are:

  • Chronic cough
  • Ear pain that comes back
  • Extensive bad breath
  • Hoarseness or sore throat
  • Irregular lump in throat or neck
  • Issues breathing
  • Trouble or discomfort when swallowing
  • Weight loss that’s unplanned

The moment you notice anything is off and symptoms persist, visit a doctor immediately for an official diagnosis. The earlier disease is detected, the more treatment options a patient can have. After a doctor administers imaging tests on the patient, they may recommend a biopsy for the final diagnosis. A biopsy is a reliable way doctors can diagnose cancer in patients. It involves a surgeon making a small incision and removing a sample tissue from the suspected area to be sent to a research lab for analysis.

Stages of the Disease

Throat cancer stages consist of levels 0 through 4, where 4 is the most advanced form, and tumors have grown and spread to distant regions of the body. Usually, stage 4 has limited curative treatment options. The doctor may only recommend palliative therapies to help manage pain and make the patient as comfortable as possible. Symptoms will be their worst at this stage. In stage 0, cancer cells haven’t begun forming yet, but abnormal cells are found around the lining of the larynx.

In stages 1 through 3, tumors can be found in the larynx and potentially spread to other areas of the body, usually beginning with the lymph nodes and other nearby areas. Since stages differ by several variables, your healthcare provider will be able to give you a detailed account of your specific stage in the disease with your diagnosis.

Treatments and Therapies

Your healthcare provider will curate a specific treatment plan based on your general health, stage in the disease, and other treatments you may have had recently or in the past.

For curative treatments, doctors can recommend one or a combination of the following:

Treatments for this illness may have negative side effects. These, too, will differ based on your unique variables in illness and treatment therapy. Usually, adverse effects are manageable, but a medical professional can also recommend and prescribe other medications to help reduce pain or discomfort if needed.

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