Neuroendocrine neoplasms of the larynx have been divided into those of epithelial or neural origin. The latter consist of paragangliomas while the epithelial origin group can be divided into the typical and atypical carcinoids and small cell neuroendocrine carcinomata, the latter consisting of the oat cell type, the intermediate cell type and the combined cell type. There are now over 500 cases of neuroendocrine neoplasms of the larynx in the literature.
The diagnosis is primarily based on light microscopy, and, in some instances, it may be supported by special histochemical studies. It should be confirmed by immunocytochemical and/or ultrastructural investigation. The different biological behaviour of neuroendocrine neoplasms of the larynx makes a specific diagnosis of paramount importance, since treatment depends on diagnostic accuracy.
Typical carcinoid is an extremely rare lesion. It is treated preferably by conservative surgery; elective neck dissection is not necessary because of the lack of lymph node metastases at diagnosis. Chemotherapy and/or radiotherapy have not been effective in the limited number of patients treated thus far. Prognosis is excellent with cure following surgery.
Atypical carcinoid is the most frequent non-squamous carcinoma of the larynx. The mainstay of treatment is surgery. Elective neck dissection should be performed because of the high likelihood of cervical lymph node metastases. Primary radiation therapy with adjuvant chemotherapy is not indicated. The survival rate is 48 per cent at five years and 30 per cent at 10 years.
Although the larynx is one of its most common extrapulmonary sites, small cell neuroendocrine carcinoma is still a rare tumour. Surgical results for this tumour have been disappointing and is reserved for cases of local relapse with no evidence of metastasis. Chemotherapy and radiotherapy currently appear to offer the least disabling and most effective forms of therapy. The two- and five-year survival rates are 16 per cent and five per cent, respectively.
Paraneoplastic syndromes have occasionally been reported in association with carcinoid tumours (typical and atypical) and small cell neuroendocrine carcinoma. There have been also rare reports of an elevated neuropeptide serum level.
Paraganglioma is the only laryngeal neuroendocrine neoplasm with a female preponderance (3:1). Confusion with atypical carcinoid has led to incorrect diagnosis and inappropriate classification schemes, erroneously suggesting that laryngeal paraganglioma has the potential for aggressive behaviour. Conservative surgery represents the treatment of choice; elective neck dissection is not necessary, and the prognosis is excellent.