Regaining A Singing Voice After Cancer


on       SAN DIEGO, Calif. (Ivanhoe Newswire)— About 10,000 new cases of vocal cord cancer are diagnosed each year in the U.S. Treating this type of cancer can be tricky because the vocal cords are vital for making sound. Now, how doctors saved one man’s singing voice …

Rich Geiler has been singing his whole life.

“Music has always been such a release, and such a pleasure,” Geiler shared.

But when doctors found a tumor on one of his vocal cords, Rich thought he might have to give it all up.

“Having sung or been in music for 50 years, that’s a big thing to not do again,” Geiler revealed.

The cancerous tumor had to go but doctors didn’t know how surgery would affect Rich’s voice.

“We prepared him that it could range from no voice whatsoever to a functional voice,” explained Erin Walsh, MA, CCC-SLP, IBCLC Speech-Language Pathologist at UC San Diego Health, Center for Voice & Swallowing.

(Read Full Interview)

“So, I was faced with the idea that I could be … I don’t know … I might not have a voice,” Geiler recalled.

Surgeons had to carefully cut the tumor out with a technique to minimize scar formation, stiffness, and voice change – while preserving as much of the vocal cord as possible.

“The vocal cords are what produce voice, and voice really is a vibratory function of the body,” elaborated Philip Weissbrod, MD, associate professor of surgery and director of Center for Voice and Swallowing at UC San Diego Health.

(Read Full Interview)

Before and after the procedure, Rich worked with speech-language pathologists who specialize in music training to help him regain his singing voice. The collaborative effort between surgeons and speech pathologists had him singing again in four weeks.

“And now he’s singing music that he didn’t 20 years ago,” added Walsh.

“So, big, big improvement and kind of surprising,” concluded Dr. Weissbrod.

And he doesn’t have to give up what he loves most!

Symptoms of vocal cord cancer include voice changes, a sore throat, trouble breathing or swallowing, lumps in the neck, and coughing up blood.

Contributors to this news report include: Cyndy McGrath, Executive Producer; Julie Marks, Field Producer; Roque Correa, Editor.

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REPORT:       MB #4767

BACKGROUND: Vocal cord cancer starts as small areas of abnormal cells that undergo sequential changes which then lead to the development of cancer. Precancerous lesions may appear as a white or red plaque on the vocal cord. These findings on an exam will result in a biopsy or removal of the lesion to rule out the presence of cancer. An estimated 10,000 cases of vocal cord cancer are diagnosed nationally each year. It’s closely linked with a history of smoking, though nonsmokers may get vocal cord cancer as well. Fortunately, vocal cord cancers typically present early because the lesion creates hoarseness that often prompts early evaluation.


DIAGNOSING: Some symptoms of vocal cord cancer can include voice change; chronic sore throat; trouble swallowing with associated weight loss; trouble breathing; sensation of something stuck in the throat; the appearance of one or more lumps that can be felt in the neck; and coughing up blood. Treatment recommendation varies on the location and size of the tumor. Treatment options include surgery to completely remove the cancerous growth while preserving as much normal tissue as possible. Surgery can often be performed through the mouth but occasionally an open surgery through the neck is needed. Radiation therapy is another treatment designed to kill the cancerous cells. The entire voice box is treated at the same time. While this technology has dramatically improved over the years, doses of radiation needed for definitive treatment of a vocal cord cancer can still sometimes lead to long-term voice and swallowing problems.


LASER PROCEDURE TREATS EARLY CANCER: Semirra Bayan, MD, assistant professor of surgery at the University of Chicago Medicine, is an expert in using an innovative potassium titanyl phosphate (KTP) laser procedure to treat early vocal cord cancers. This procedure targets the blood vessels of the cancer while preserving the underlying healthy tissue underneath the cancer. Under a microscope, ultranarrow margins are obtained as the laser slowly removes the cancer layer by layer until healthy tissue is reached. This allows for preservation of normal healthy vocal cord tissue. This treatment is as effective as radiation therapy in treating early vocal cord cancers. And following surgery there are no additional side effects. The benefit is that you preserve all the healthy tissue not involved with cancer and do not have the same issues with swallowing that you can see in patients who have had radiation.






If this story on Regaining a Singing Voice or any other Ivanhoe story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at

Doctor Q and A

Read the entire Doctor Q&A for Philip Weissbrod, MD, Associate Professor of Surgery and Director of the Center for Voice and Swallowing and Erin Walsh, MA, CCC-SLP, IBCLC Speech-Language Pathologist

Read the entire Q&A