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Hypopharyngeal Cancer

If you think you may be experiencing hypopharyngeal cancer symptoms, or if you have been diagnosed with this condition, read on for more information about the condition and available treatments. 

What is Hypopharyngeal Cancer?

Hypopharyngeal cancer is a type of head and neck cancer that develops in the hypopharynx, located in the throat. Your hypopharynx is behind your larynx, or voice box, and is the part of the throat that connects your mouth to your esophagus, which leads to your stomach.

Hypopharyngeal cancer is typically a squamous cell carcinoma meaning it starts from the squamous cell lining of the hypopharynx.

Risk factors for hypopharyngeal cancer may include:

  • Tobacco use (smoking or chewing tobacco).
  • Drinking alcohol
  • Workplace exposure to inhaled irritants such as paint fumes, plastics, metals, and asbestos

This condition affects more men than women, and more African Americans than Caucasians. Age also can be a risk factor, with most people being diagnosed in their 60s and 70s.

This type of cancer can spread within the head and neck and also to other organs or parts of the body such as the lungs, liver, and bones.

Because hypopharyngeal cancer affects the throat, its symptoms can resemble those of other non-serious illnesses. In fact, you may not have any symptoms at all when the cancer is in its early stages. However, if you experience any of these symptoms persistently, you should visit a doctor to learn what may be causing them.

Some of the early symptoms include:

  • Sore throat.
  • Cough.
  • Ear pain.
  • The feeling of a lump in your throat.

If the cancer grows, your symptoms may progress to include:

  • Pain when swallowing.
  • A lump in your throat or on your neck that you can feel or see.
  • Trouble breathing.

Before your doctor can diagnose a hypopharyngeal cancer, it is important to rule out other conditions or illnesses. This process includes discussing your medical history, and any risk factors you might have.

The doctor will examine your neck and throat. Some exams and tests you might need include:

  • Examining your throat with a mirror
  • Examining your throat with a scope that is passed through your nose or mouth
  • Blood tests
  • Imaging tests such as a CT scan, PET scanMRI, or x-ray

During or after these tests, your doctor may want to perform a biopsy. A biopsy involves removing a piece of tissue for examination under a microscope to determine if there are any cancer cells.

If you do have this type of cancer, the test results will also reveal its stage.

Treatment for your cancer depends on its stage. At UPMC, treatment can include one or multiple treatments including but not limited to:

Chemotherapy: During chemotherapy, medications are administered orally or through an IV. Chemotherapy can make you feel sick and can sometimes affect other organs like the liver, so your team will monitor your health closely during chemotherapy to watch for side effects. Chemotherapy is often combined with radiation to make the radiation more effective.

Learn more about chemotherapy.

Radiation: Radiation therapy uses high-energy x-rays or concentrated radioactive material to kill cancer cells. UPMC offers several types of radiation therapy, all of which have been developed to target the cancer and affect healthy tissue as little as possible. Radiation has some side effects, which may include dry mouth, skin problems, and fatigue.

Learn more about radiation therapy.

Surgery: UPMC offers innovative, cutting-edge surgical techniques to treat hypopharyngeal cancer. The goal of surgical treatment is to remove as much cancer as possible while leaving healthy tissue alone. Minimally invasive surgery such as robotic surgery has several benefits, which include better surgical precision and shorter hospital stays.

Learn more about surgical options at UPMC.

In addition to these treatments your treatment team may discuss clinical trials with you including with immunotherapy.

UPMC has provided high-quality services to Pittsburgh, the surrounding areas, and to people around the world for more than 30 years.

Our team of experts who focus on head and neck cancer every day includes:

  • Ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialists
  • Surgeons
  • Medical and radiation oncologists
  • Audiologists
  • Speech pathologists

We are a trusted national and international leader in head and neck cancer care, providing proven and cutting-edge services to each person we see, and conducting research to constantly improve the care we deliver.

Contact Us

To make an appointment for head and neck cancer care at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center, call 412-647-2811.