Voice Information >  Voice Disorders > Laryngeal Atypia and Early Cancer

Overview | Understanding the Disorder | Symptoms | Diagnosis | Treatment

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Vocal Fold Atypia
Non-cancerous but irregular cells in vocal fold epithelium; often leads to cancer; often recurs after removal

Vocal Fold Early Cancer
Cancer of vocal fold epithelium that is confined to the vocal folds and has not spread

Vocal Fold Epithelium
Surface lining of vocal folds composed of squamous cells


 Vocal Fold Atypia
Vocal fold atypia often appear as whitish or reddish lesions on the vocal fold surface, and are comprised of abnormal-looking cells that are not cancerous. Thought to be a prequel to cancer, atypia are usually considered as pre-cancerous or pre-malignant.

Early Vocal Fold Cancer
Early vocal fold cancer also appear as whitish or reddish lesions, but have abnormal-looking cells that have invaded the boundary of the top layer of the vocal fold.

Early cancer may affect one or both vocal folds and are often referred to as T1 or T2 type vocal fold cancers that have not spread to neck lymph nodes or elsewhere in the body.

Symptoms Do Not Distinguish Vocal Fold Atypia from Early Cancer
Because voice symptoms are similar for both atypia and early cancer, symptoms alone do not distinguish between vocal fold atypia and early cancer. Medical consultation is necessary.

Smokers Are Vulnerable
Smoking is the single greatest risk factor for developing vocal fold atypia and cancer. Risk increases with the number of cigarettes smoked and years spent smoking. A scratchy, low voice in a smoker should not simply be dismissed as “smoker’s laryngitis” since vocal fold cancer – a potentially life threatening disease – might be present.

Disease Trends
Vocal fold atypia can and often do recur. Early cancer can lead to advanced cancer which can be life-threatening.

Treatment Perspective
Early diagnosis and complete excision of the affected area result in excellent cure rates.

 Advisory Note

Patient education material presented here does not substitute for medical consultation or examination, nor is this material intended to provide advice on the medical treatment appropriate to any specific circumstances.

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