Hypopharyngeal cancer begins in the bottom of the throat. It’s a potentially aggressive form of cancer. Smoking, chewing tobacco, and heavy alcohol use are risk factors.

According to the American Cancer Society, about 2,000–4,000 cases of hypopharyngeal cancer are diagnosed in the United States each year. It begins in the bottom of the throat but can quickly spread to other parts of the body.

A lump in the neck, chronic throat pain, or vocal changes may lead your doctor to suspect hypopharyngeal cancer. If diagnostic tests confirm you do have hypopharyngeal cancer, your doctor may suggest surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation.

In addition to the information below, you can read more about cancer here.

Hypopharyngeal cancer is a rare cancer that begins in the hypopharynx, which is the bottom section of the throat. Experts consider it a type of head and neck cancer. It does not include cancers of the larynx.

There are three sections of the hypopharynx where cancer can develop:

Cancer can develop in one or multiple of these sections: About 95% of hypopharyngeal cancer cases form in the squamous cells, which are the flat, thin cells lining the hypopharynx, and 70% of cases progress into the lymph nodes by the time of diagnosis.

Symptoms of hypopharyngeal cancer can include:

  • chronic sore throat
  • ear pain
  • lump in the neck
  • vocal changes
  • difficulty swallowing or pain while swallowing

Factors that increase the risk of hypopharyngeal cancer include:

Many cancers can occur in various areas of the throat. Some are easier to treat than others.

One of the biggest factors determining how life threatening a throat cancer may be is its stage at diagnosis and whether the cancer has already spread to other areas of the body.

One area of the throat that has a poor outlook is the esophagus. Less than 20% of people with esophageal cancer are alive 5 years after receiving their diagnosis, with the lowest survival rates occurring in stage 4.

Esophageal cancer has a very low survival rate, even with treatment. Although surgery has slightly advanced survival rates, it can cause serious complications and frequently results in a very poor quality of life.

This is why regular checkups with a doctor and seeking medical advice when any concerning symptoms develop is so important.

If a doctor suspects you may have hypopharyngeal cancer based on your health history and a physical exam, they may recommend the following tests:

Doctors can use lab findings from any collected tissues, along with the information from scans, to confirm a diagnosis and stage the cancer.

Larger tumors or cancer that has spread to other areas of the body receive a higher stage. They generally have a poorer outlook than earlier stages.

Many factors can affect your prognosis, or outlook, if you have hypopharyngeal cancer. These include:

  • the stage of the cancer and whether it has spread to other parts of the body
  • your age and general health
  • whether you smoke during treatment
  • the size and location of any tumors
  • whether cancer cells are positive or negative for human papillomavirus (HPV)

Generally, the earlier the stage of hypopharyngeal cancer, the better the outlook. People with an early stage have a 60% chance of surviving 5 years after diagnosis. People with larger tumors or cancer that has spread to other parts of the body have less than a 25% chance of surviving 5 years.

Certain locations in the hypopharynx are also associated with lower survival rates. For example, people with tumors in the postcricoid region have worse survival rates than those whose cancer was detected in the lateral wall of the pyriform sinus.

However, everyone’s experience with cancer is unique. Your doctor can provide a more personalized outlook based on their knowledge of your health situation and how your cancer responds to treatments.

Treatment for hypopharyngeal cancer can :

Your doctor will suggest a personalized treatment plan, which often involves a combination of these treatments. Their recommendation will be based on a number of factors, including:

  • the exact type of cancer you have
  • whether cancer has spread to other parts of the body
  • the location and size of any tumors
  • how your cancer responds to treatment
  • your general health and age

Since smoking can increase the risk of complications during treatment as well as the likelihood of cancer returning, your doctor will likely encourage you to quit smoking as part of your treatment if you currently smoke.

Hypopharyngeal cancer develops in the bottom of the throat. If you experience vocal quality changes, a chronic sore throat, or a lump in your neck, your doctor may use a scan or biopsy to determine whether cancer is the cause.

Radiation, chemotherapy, and surgery are some options your doctor may recommend to treat hypopharyngeal cancer.

Avoiding cigarettes and chewing tobacco can help reduce the risk of developing throat cancer. Talk with your doctor if you suspect you have symptoms of hypopharyngeal cancer. The earlier you receive treatment, the better your outcome may be.