A laryngectomy is a surgery to remove part or all of your larynx (voice box). It’s done to treat laryngeal cancer or severe larynx damage. People who undergo a laryngectomy can still have a good quality of life. But they must learn new ways to breathe, speak and swallow.
A laryngectomy is a surgical procedure to remove part or all of your larynx (voice box). Your larynx is above your trachea (windpipe), and it connects your nose and mouth to your lungs. Your larynx helps you speak, breathe and swallow.
You might need laryngectomy surgery if you have:
Depending on the severity of your condition, your healthcare provider may recommend a partial laryngectomy (removing part of your larynx) or a total laryngectomy (removing all of your larynx).
As of 2013, there were about 60,000 people who had undergone a laryngectomy in the United States. Today, this number is decreasing because fewer people are smoking (a leading cause of laryngeal cancer) and because newer surgical methods can sometimes treat conditions without removing the larynx.
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Before your laryngectomy, your healthcare provider will perform a complete physical examination. They’ll also recommend testing, which may include:
Your provider will also refer you to other medical professionals — like speech-language pathologists and swallowing specialists — who’ll help you prepare for recovery and life after a laryngectomy.
If necessary, counseling is available to help you quit smoking before your laryngectomy. Most providers also offer nutritional counseling to foster healthy habits after your surgery.
Before you come in for your procedure, your healthcare provider will give you a detailed list of preoperative instructions. In general, you’ll stop taking blood thinning medications temporarily. You’ll also fast the night before your laryngectomy surgery.
Your surgeon will perform a laryngectomy under general anesthesia. Once you’re comfortable, they’ll:
Following a laryngectomy, most people stay in the hospital for one to two weeks. Your medical team will track your recovery during this time.
For the first several days, you’ll get nutrition through a feeding tube. Once you’re able to swallow liquids, your provider will remove the tube.
Laryngectomy surgery removes your vocal cords. So, you’ll have to learn new ways to speak and communicate. A speech-language pathologist can help find an approach that works best for you.
A voice prosthesis (laryngectomy speaking device) sits over your stoma. With training, you can learn to move air from your lungs into your esophagus. The resulting vibrations create speech.
There are different types of voice prostheses. Ask your healthcare provider if this option could work for you.
You hold an electrolarynx (artificial larynx) against your neck to enhance your speech. Most people can use an electrolarynx after only a few days, making it one of the fastest methods to learn.
The words produced by an electrolarynx sound robotic and artificial. But it’s an excellent short- or long-term solution after laryngectomy surgery.
Some people use esophageal speech to communicate after a laryngectomy. With this method, you can redirect air from your mouth, trap it in your throat and esophagus and use it to form speech.
Anyone who undergoes a laryngectomy will use nonverbal communication at some point during their recovery. Nonverbal communication may include:
Like any surgery, there are risks associated with laryngectomy, including:
Complications that are specific to laryngectomy include:
On average, it takes two to three weeks to recover after laryngectomy surgery. But this timeline depends on several factors, including the extent of surgery and your body’s healing capacity. Some people need longer to recover.
In most cases, a laryngectomy is successful for removing cancer. But you might need other treatments — such as chemotherapy or radiation therapy — to reduce the risk of recurrence (return). You’ll also need to see your healthcare provider for routine follow-ups.
Following your laryngectomy surgery, your medical team will work with you to help you learn new ways to breathe, speak and swallow. This includes working with a speech-language pathologist, who’ll help you communicate effectively. You’ll also learn how to properly care for your laryngectomy stoma.
Your healthcare provider will give you a detailed list of post-operative instructions. It’s important to follow these guidelines closely as you navigate your recovery.
Many people who’ve had a total laryngectomy enjoy a good quality of life. For those recovering from laryngeal cancer, long-term survival depends on several factors, including the stage and location of the tumor, whether the cancer spread and the person’s general health.
To learn more about survival rates after laryngectomy, talk to your healthcare provider.
After your laryngectomy, contact your healthcare provider if you develop a fever, pus around your incision or other signs of infection.
If you have chest pain or difficulty breathing, call 911 or head to your nearest emergency room.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Hearing that you need a laryngectomy can feel scary, frustrating or even hopeless. Talk to your healthcare provider about how you’re feeling. They can recommend resources to guide you through your treatment. You may also wish to talk to a counselor or join a local or online support group. Learning all you can about your situation can empower you and help you make informed decisions about your health.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 08/29/2022.
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