What is a laryngectomy?
Laryngectomy is the surgical removal of the larynx. The larynx is the portion of your throat that houses your vocal cords, which allow you to produce sound. The larynx connects your nose and mouth to your lungs. It also protects your breathing system by keeping the things you eat or drink in your esophagus and out of your lungs.
If you have a laryngectomy, it will affect your speaking, swallowing, and breathing. You’ll need to learn new ways to perform all three tasks after surgery.
You will see a speech and language therapist before your operation. They will discuss the different ways you can communicate after your surgery. You might also be able to meet someone who has had similar surgery. Or you can watch videos of people communicating after their laryngectomy.
Removing the larynx is a serious yet necessary treatment for people who:
- have cancer of the larynx
- have sustained severe injury to the neck, such as a gunshot wound
- develop radiation necrosis (damage to the larynx stemming from radiation treatment)
Depending on your condition, your surgeon will perform a partial or complete laryngectomy.
Anatomy of the neck
There are two different pathways within your throat, one to your stomach and one to your lungs. The esophagus is the pathway to your stomach, and the larynx and trachea (windpipe) lead to your lungs.
When your larynx is in place, it shares a common space with the esophagus known as the pharynx. Laryngectomy removes the larynx, cutting off the connection between your mouth and lungs.
After a laryngectomy, the esophagus and trachea no longer share the common space. You’ll need to learn a new way of swallowing to account for this change. You’ll breathe through a surgical hole in your neck called a stoma. The stoma is a substitute for the normal breathing pathway that’s modified during surgery.