Patterns of urgent hoarseness referrals to ENT – When should we be suspicious of cancer?

Catriona M Douglas, Crawford Middleton, Pauline Sim, Megan Wight, David Young, Kenneth MacKenzie, Jenny Montgomery

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Background: Current UK referral criteria stipulate that hoarseness should be persistent to merit 2 week wait (2WW) or urgent suspicion of cancer (USOC) referral. This study delineates patterns of hoarseness presentation with a view to assisting referral pathways, and whereby reassurance could be provided. Methods: A pre-existing database of patients referred with hoarseness under the urgent suspicion of cancer (USOC) category was analysed. Univariate and multivariate analyses were performed on a variety of demographic and comorbid features to produce odds ratios (OR) of features either related or not related to laryngeal cancer. Results: Of 698 consecutive hoarseness referrals were studied. In these referrals there were 506(73%) with persistent hoarseness and 192(27%) with intermittent hoarseness. The most significant patient variables related to laryngeal cancer were persistent hoarseness (OR 4.97), recreational drug use (OR 4.94), male gender (OR 4.01) and weight loss (OR 3.75). Significant patient variables present not related to laryngeal cancer diagnosis were intermittent hoarseness (OR 0.2), the presence of cough (OR 0.2), globus sensation (OR 0.25) and recent viral infection (OR 0.29). Conclusion: The strongest association with cancer is seen in patients that are persistently hoarse. Patients with fluctuating hoarseness do not need an “urgent suspicion of cancer” referral. Additional demographic referral information could help to streamline the referral of these patients, and reassure others.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)562-569
Number of pages8
JournalClinical Otolaryngology
Issue number3
Early online date6 Jan 2021
Publication statusPublished - 31 May 2021


  • hoarseness
  • laryngeal cancer
  • larynx
  • outpatients
  • voice


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