by Jason Wasserman MD PhD FRCPC
April 25, 2023
Squamous dysplasia in the larynx is a precancerous disease. It develops from the squamous cells that cover the inner surface of the larynx. The larynx is a part of the throat that includes the vocal cords. Squamous dysplasia is considered a precancerous disease because it can over time turn into a type of laryngeal cancer called squamous cell carcinoma.
The most common cause of squamous dysplasia in the larynx is smoking. Other causes include excessive alcohol consumption, immune suppression, and prior radiation to the neck.
No. Squamous dysplasia in the larynx is not cancer. It is, however, a precancerous condition that can turn into a type of laryngeal cancer called squamous cell carcinoma over time.
The diagnosis of squamous dysplasia is usually made after a small sample of tissue is removed in a procedure called a biopsy. The biopsy is usually performed because your doctor saw an abnormal-looking area of tissue during an examination of your larynx. Your pathology report will probably say what part of the larynx was sampled in the biopsy.
The diagnosis of squamous dysplasia in the oral cavity is usually made after a small sample of tissue is removed in a procedure called a biopsy. The biopsy is usually performed because you or your doctor saw an abnormal-looking area of tissue when your larynx was examined. Your pathology report will probably say what part of the larynx was sampled in the biopsy (for example, the vocal cords). The diagnosis can also be made after a larger piece of tissue is removed in a procedure called an excision.
Compared to normal, healthy squamous cells, the abnormal squamous cells in an area of squamous dysplasia are larger, darker, and disorganized. Pathologists use the word hyperchromatic to describe cells that look darker than normal cells. Large clumps of genetic material called nucleoli may also be seen in the nucleus of the abnormal cells. These squamous cells also commonly undergo an abnormal pattern of development which results in a process called keratinization.
In the larynx, squamous dysplasia is commonly divided into three grades: mild squamous dysplasia, moderate squamous dysplasia, and severe squamous dysplasia.
The grade of squamous dysplasia is very important because it is related to the risk of developing a type of laryngeal cancer called squamous cell carcinoma in the future. Mild squamous dysplasia is associated with the lowest risk of developing cancer and those who do develop cancer tend to develop it after many years. Moderate and severe squamous dysplasia are associated with the highest risk of developing cancer and patients are typically offered treatment to remove the disease before it progresses to cancer.
Pathologists determine the grade by comparing the abnormal cells in the disease area to the healthy squamous cells normally found in the larynx. Specifically, pathologists look at the size, shape, and colour of the abnormal squamous cells and the number of mitotic figures (dividing cells).
A margin is any healthy tissue that was cut by the surgeon in order to remove the abnormal area of tissue from your body. Whenever possible, surgeons will try to cut healthy tissue well outside of the abnormal area to reduce the risk that any abnormal cells will be left behind after the tissue is removed.
Your pathologist will carefully examine all the margins in your tissue sample to see how close the abnormal cells are to the edge of the cut tissue. Margins will only be described in your report after the entire abnormal area of tissue has been removed. Margins are not described in a report after a biopsy has been performed.
A negative margin means that squamous dysplasia was not seen at the very edge of the cut tissue. If all the margins are negative, most pathology reports will say how far the closest abnormal cells were to the cut edge of the tissue. The distance is usually described in millimeters.
A margin is considered positive when squamous dysplasia is seen at the very edge of the cut tissue. A positive margin is associated with a higher risk that the disease will come back (recur) in the same site after treatment.