A laryngectomy is the most commonly performed surgery to remove cancer of the larynx. It may also be performed when gunshot wounds, severe fractures, or other trauma affect the larynx. Either the whole larynx (total laryngectomy) or part of the larynx (partial laryngectomy) can be removed. The surgery involves creating a new airway that opens in the lower neck for breathing. This new airway is permanent following a total laryngectomy, and temporary after a partial laryngectomy.
The larynx is situated at the point where the single tube that makes up the throat which is also known as the pharynx divides into a separate tract for food going through the esophagus to the stomach and air going to the through trachea(windpipe) to the lungs. The larynx serves an important function to protect the airway by ensuring that swallowed foods and liquids pass down to the esophagus rather than into the lungs.
The vocal folds which are responsible for sound generation in speech and singing, are also located in the larynx. The vocal folds vibrate and produce the sounds heard in voiced speech as air is exhaled through them. If the larynx is removed, air cannot pass from the lungs into the mouth. The surgeon will create a stoma in front of the trachea that will be linked directly to the lungs. The stoma allows the patient to breathe air on their own after the surgery.