Hypopharyngeal cancers are any malignant (cancerous) growth found in the hypopharynx, the bottom of the throat where it connects to the esophagus. These cancers are highly treatable if caught early, because of their location.

Symptoms

Symptoms of hypopharyngeal cancers may include:

  • Lumps in the mouth or neck
  • Ear pain
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Sore throat
  • Changes in speaking or breathing

Other condition can also cause these symptoms, so it’s important to see a doctor right away.

Risk Factors

No one knows why cells grow out of control and form hypopharyngeal tumors. There are certain risk factors, though:

  • Exposure to cigarette smoke
  • History of smoking or chewing tobacco
  • History of alcohol abuse

Diagnosis

To make a diagnosis, our doctors:

  • Take a full medical history
  • Perform a complete head and neck exam
  • Possibly remove a small amount of the tumor during a biopsy, for further study
  • Potentially run lab and imaging tests, including:
    • X-ray
    • MRI
    • CT (CAT) scan
    • Panendoscopy: direct laryngoscopy (look at voice box), esophagoscopy (esophagus) and bronchoscopy (bronchial tubes and lungs)
    • Endoscopy: inserting a flexible tube called a scope with a light and camera down the nose and throat

These exams and tests help the doctor determine:

  • The type of cancer and its stage
  • How aggressive it is
  • Whether it has spread
  • How best to treat it

Treatment

Treatment for hypopharyngeal cancer depends on:

  • The cancer’s stage
  • Preserving your ability to talk, eat, and breathe as much as possible
  • Your overall health

One option for hypopharyngeal cancer is surgery, removing part of the throat (pharynx) and all or part of the voice box (larynx), during procedures called laryngopharyngectomy or partial laryngopharyngectomy. Lymph nodes and neck tissue might also get removed (neck dissection), and surgery is usually followed by radiation.

Other treatments include chemotherapy after surgery or paired with radiation, sometimes at the same time. We also have clinical trials in targeted therapy and when to use chemotherapy, with which drugs.

Follow-Up Care

Patients who have had hypopharyngeal cancer are at risk of developing a second head or neck cancer, and our doctors also want to catch any original cancer that might return. After treatment, they will ask you to come in for regular checkups, as frequently as once a month for the first year.