Chronic Laryngitis, a Potential Misdiagnosis of Laryngeal Cancer

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Due to the U.S. Navy's extensive use of asbestos throughout the last century, thousands of veterans are battling permanent health damage today. Asbestos was heavily applied in shipbuilding, and naval ships built before the 1980s were mandatorily insulated with the toxic mineral.

The mineral has flexible fibers able to separate and become airborne when damaged or disturbed, putting everyone onboard at a high risk of inhaling or ingesting considerable amounts of toxic particles. The microscopic asbestos fibers are the culprit of diseases many Navy veterans suffer from decades after their service, such as chronic laryngitis.

Thanks to their barb-like ends, the tiny asbestos threads penetrate the tissues and cause acute inflammation that damages the cells over many years and may facilitate abnormal cell growth. The process can also result in chronic laryngitis, a condition manifesting with a hoarse voice and difficulty swallowing in the first phases.

Voice Changes, a Consequence of Veterans' Asbestos Exposure

Before arriving in the lungs, the inhaled asbestos particles pass through the throat, and by embedding in the tissues, they generate inflammation in the larynx, our "voice box" containing the vocal cords in the upper portion of the neck. The irritated tissues show as visible redness and swelling in the throat, accompanied by growing discomfort when swallowing. Laryngitis has two main types:

  • short-lived or acute
  • long-lasting or chronic

Chronic laryngitis is a more persistent illness and produces lingering hoarseness or other voice changes. It is mostly painless, but a persistent hoarseness can sometimes be a sign of a more serious underlying medical condition. It is why a hoarseness that doesn't go away or keeps coming back should never be ignored. Veterans should make an appointment to see their doctor if their voice change lasts more than three weeks. Aside from voice changes, chronic laryngitis manifests symptoms such as:

  • loss of voice
  • raw or irritated throat
  • dry cough
  • fever
  • difficulty swallowing
  • swollen lymph nodes in the neck

Usually, among the most common causes of chronic laryngitis are voice misuse, smoking, or heavy alcohol drinking, as alcohol causes a chemical irritation of the larynx and produces changes similar to those of smokers. In some rare cases, chronic laryngitis can be caused by chronic sinusitis with postnasal drip or an inflammatory illness or infection directly involving the vocal cords, like sarcoidosis or tuberculosis. Other potential factors causing chronic laryngitis are:

  • gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • work-related exposure to irritating chemicals or dust

Misdiagnosis, a Frequent Incidence

As with most asbestos-related diseases, correctly interpreting the signs is challenging for doctors because other conditions can mimic laryngitis, and symptoms can be misleading. For instance, in its incipient phases, laryngeal cancer produces voice hoarseness like chronic laryngitis, and hoarseness that doesn't improve after a few weeks is one of the most common symptoms of laryngeal cancer.

It further complicates things that this first sign is easy to mistake for a common cold symptom. That is why veterans should act immediately and call the doctor to schedule tests for a correct diagnosis. To rule out severe conditions like laryngeal cancer, a doctor may recommend:

  • biopsy during a laryngoscopy and tissue lab tests
  • imaging tests like X-ray, CT, or MRI scan
  • blood tests

Chronic laryngitis typically evolves into a malignant form through inflammatory processes generally characterized by:

  • hoarseness with inflammation of cords
  • inflammation of the mucous membrane
  • thickening or nodules of cords
  • appearance of polyps
  • submucous infiltration

These are signs of the condition worsening and are pre-malignant changes visible on imaging tests.

An Asbestos Cancer Diagnosis Gives Veterans the Right to Claim Compensation

Because thousands of Navy veterans were unknowingly exposed to the harmful effects of asbestos on the ships built before the 1980s, diseases stemming from it prevail even now, decades after their service, and are most of the health issues former Navy personnel face daily.

Asbestos-related illnesses are complex and often incorrectly diagnosed, resulting in veterans being prescribed inadequate treatments and thus losing precious time. It underscores the importance of a correct assessment and an accurate diagnosis. To help achieve this, former Navy service members should be open with their doctors about their time in the military and the chances of asbestos exposure on the naval vessels. A second or even a third doctor's opinion outside the VA can offer a more exact diagnosis and help access the most suitable treatment.

Veterans diagnosed with asbestos-related cancer are entitled to claims and may be eligible for compensation if their medical records state conditions like:

Should you decide to take legal steps and file claims with the asbestos trust funds and the VA to receive compensation for your pain and suffering, medical bills, or wages lost due to time off at work, we can put you in touch with experienced lawyers ready to represent you through the process.

If you have a cancer diagnosis please contact us

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