Following the removal of the larynx, known as a total laryngectomy, a person would be unable to produce sound through their vocal folds, unable to swallow normally, and unable to breathe through their nose or mouth. In this article, we will discuss these three common functions affected by a laryngectomy.
Producing Sound Through the Vocal Folds
A laryngectomy is the standard of care for surgical salvage in laryngeal cancer, and usually results in the total removal of the larynx (voice box). As a result of this, a person would be unable to produce sound with their vocal folds, as the vocal cords have been surgically removed. A person with a laryngectomy would be unable to speak in the traditional sense, as the larynx is responsible for producing the sound of the voice. As the larynx is removed, the person would require alternative methods of communication such as a tracheoesophageal prosthesis, esophageal speech device, electrolarynx, or sign language.
In a laryngectomy, the larynx is either partially or completely removed depending on the extent of the cancer. If a partial laryngectomy is performed, the person will still be able to swallow normally. However, in a total laryngectomy, the swallowing process would be affected, as the larynx is responsible for coordinating and closing off the airway during the swallowing process. After a total laryngectomy, the person would need to treat food differently, and learn new methods of swallowing to avoid aspiration.
Breathing Through the Nose or Mouth
The removal of the larynx would also prevent a person from being able to breathe through their nose or mouth. When a person breathes in, the air must pass through the larynx before entering the lungs. Because the larynx is removed in a laryngectomy, the person would need to use a tracheostomy to provide an alternate airway for breathing.
In conclusion, following the removal of the larynx, a person would be unable to produce sound through their vocal folds, unable to swallow normally, and unable to breathe through their nose or mouth. A laryngectomy is a major surgery with life-changing effects, and so it is important that people understand the implications of the procedure.