Hypopharyngeal (HP) Carcinoma

Hypopharyngeal cancer is a type of head and neck cancer that occurs when cancerous cells develop in the tissues of the hypopharynx, which is the bottom part of the throat. These cells usually originate from the surface of the lining of the throat and form squamous cell carcinoma (cancer).

Scientists don’t know the cause of HP carcinoma, but they do know that risk factors include:

  • Smoking or chewing tobacco
  • Heavy alcohol use

Plummer-Vinson syndrome is a rare type of HP carcinoma that involves difficulties swallowing. It is thought to be caused by iron-deficiency anemia. 

About 13,150 new cases of laryngeal cancer occur every year. Symptoms tend to develop gradually, and most HP cancer is detected at an advanced stage.

Treatment

  • Endoscopic surgery
  • Radiation therapy 
  • Surgery to remove all or part of the pharynx, lymph nodes and larynx (voice box)
  • Chemotherapy
  • Targeted therapy drugs
  • EGFR inhibitors

Other Patient Educational Resources

Care Team

Salah Almokadem, DO, MBChB Salah Almokadem, DO, MBChB Medical Oncologist View Researcher Profile
Melissa Boltz, DO Melissa Boltz, DO Surgeon View Researcher Profile
Karen Choi, MD Karen Choi, MD Surgeon View Researcher Profile
David Goldenberg, MD David Goldenberg, MD Surgeon View Researcher Profile
Neerav Goyal, MD, MPH Neerav Goyal, MD, MPH Surgeon View Researcher Profile
Diane Hershock, MD, PhD Diane Hershock, MD, PhD Medical Oncologist View Researcher Profile
Jessyka Lighthall, MD Jessyka Lighthall, MD Surgeon View Researcher Profile
Heath Mackley, MD Heath Mackley, MD Radiation Oncologist View Researcher Profile
Marc Rovito, MD Marc Rovito, MD Hematology/Oncologist View Researcher Profile
Brian Saunders, MD Brian Saunders, MD Surgeon View Researcher Profile
Guy Slonimsky Guy Slonimsky Surgeon
Leila Tchelebi, MD Leila Tchelebi, MD Radiation Oncologist View Researcher Profile

Locations

Penn State Cancer Institute

Penn State Cancer Institute

400 University Dr
Hershey, PA 17033

Phone: 717-531-6585
Penn State Health Medical Group - Nyes Road Specialties

Penn State Health Medical Group - Nyes Road Specialties

121 N Nyes Rd
Suite C
Harrisburg, PA 17112

Phone: 717-657-4045
Penn State Health Medical Group Camp Hill - Specialties

Penn State Health Medical Group Camp Hill - Specialties

3025 Market St
Entrance A
Camp Hill, PA 17011

Phone: 717-761-8900
Penn State Health Otolaryngology - Head and Neck Surgery/Pediatric Surgery

Penn State Health Otolaryngology - Head and Neck Surgery/Pediatric Surgery

200 Campus Dr
Suite 400 | Entrance 2
Hershey, PA 17033

Phone: 717-531-6822

Clinical Trials

Groups, Classes and Support

Support groups offer an opportunity to connect with other patients, caregivers and families. Learn more about support groups offered at Penn State Cancer Institute.

Prevention and Screening

Screenings for hypopharyngeal (HP) cancer are not recommended because it is a rare type of cancer. However, you should visit your primary provider at least once a year for a well visit and see a doctor immediately if you have any concerns about your overall health. 

You can also take steps to lower your risk of developing HP cancer:

  • Avoid tobacco
  • Limit alcohol consumption
  • Eat a well-balanced diet rich in fruits and vegetables
  • Limit salt-cured fish and meats. This includes popular foods such as beef jerky, bacon, corned beef, ceviche, anchovies or dried cod

Symptoms and Diagnosis

Hypopharyngeal cancer is a type of head and neck cancer that occurs when cancerous cells develop in the tissues of the hypopharynx, which is the bottom part of the throat. These cells usually originate from the surface of the lining of the throat and form squamous cell carcinoma (cancer).

Symptoms

Hypopharyngeal (HP) cancer symptoms can appear as hoarseness or other voice changes that do not go away within two weeks. This is often an early symptom. Other symptoms include:
  • Airway obstruction, difficulty or noisy breathing
  • An enlarged lymph node or lump in the neck
  • Choking
  • Chronic bad breath
  • Difficulty swallowing that does not go away
  • Ear pain
  • Fatigue
  • Persistent sore throat or a feeling that something is caught in the throat
  • Unexplained weight loss
People may experience those symptoms or have no symptoms; and HP cancer can found during a physical exam. 

Diagnosis

If you experience any of those symptoms or are concerned about your health, schedule an appointment with your primary care provider. Your provider will conduct a complete physical exam and check for swollen lymph nodes. After your exam, your provider may refer you to a head and neck specialist, called an otolaryngologist.

At that appointment, you will answer in-depth questions about your personal and family medical history and describe the severity of your symptoms, including how long you have been experiencing them.

Your doctor may also perform a flexible scope exam during your visit. A local anesthesia will be used to examine and check the extent of any abnormalities.

A biopsy will be ordered if abnormalities are found. The biopsy may take place in the office or it may be done in an operating room under general anesthesia.

Imaging tests may also be used to help identify if the cancer has spread. Your doctor may order:

  • CT scan: CT stands for computed tomography. This test is also called a CAT scan. It takes detailed images of internal organs, bones, soft tissue and blood vessels. Your physician is able to use the cross-sectional images to confirm the presence, size and location of a tumor. 
  • MRI: A magnetic resonance imaging diagnostic test takes detailed pictures of inside your body. It is used to help diagnose cancer and to monitor the effectiveness of treatments. 
  • PET: The positron emission tomography is generally only used in later-stage cancers to determine if cancer has spread to other organs. PET scans are sometimes combined with CT scans to provide a more precise and accurate diagnosis. 

Stages of Hypopharyngeal Cancer

Diagnostic tests and exams will identify if you have HP cancer. Test results will also give your doctor a clear picture of the type of cancer you have. Cancer is often described in stages. Stages describe the severity of cancer and help your doctor determine the best treatment plan for you.

There are four stages of cancer. Later stages (stages 3 and 4) indicate cancer has spread to other organs. Within each stage of cancer, there are often other classifications that describe the type of cancer you have.

Outlook & Prognosis

In general, patients with very early stage HP cancer - stage 1 - have about a 50 percent long-term survival with treatment when the survival statistics are examined over large populations of patients. Higher-stage HP cancer patients have worse survival rates, statistically speaking. The highest stage of HP cancer is stage 4C. Patients who have cancer that has spread to body organs, such as the lungs, are given a stage of 4C. Though these patients can be treated to maximize quality of life and lifespan, this stage of cancer is not usually curable. 

Hypopharyngeal (HP) Carcinoma

Hypopharyngeal cancer is a type of head and neck cancer that occurs when cancerous cells develop in the tissues of the hypopharynx, which is the bottom part of the throat. These cells usually originate from the surface of the lining of the throat and form squamous cell carcinoma (cancer).

Scientists don’t know the cause of HP carcinoma, but they do know that risk factors include:

  • Smoking or chewing tobacco
  • Heavy alcohol use

Plummer-Vinson syndrome is a rare type of HP carcinoma that involves difficulties swallowing. It is thought to be caused by iron-deficiency anemia. 

About 13,150 new cases of laryngeal cancer occur every year. Symptoms tend to develop gradually, and most HP cancer is detected at an advanced stage.

  • Endoscopic surgery
  • Radiation therapy 
  • Surgery to remove all or part of the pharynx, lymph nodes and larynx (voice box)
  • Chemotherapy
  • Targeted therapy drugs
  • EGFR inhibitors

Other Patient Educational Resources

Salah Almokadem, DO, MBChB Salah Almokadem, DO, MBChB Medical Oncologist View Researcher Profile
Melissa Boltz, DO Melissa Boltz, DO Surgeon View Researcher Profile
Karen Choi, MD Karen Choi, MD Surgeon View Researcher Profile
David Goldenberg, MD David Goldenberg, MD Surgeon View Researcher Profile
Neerav Goyal, MD, MPH Neerav Goyal, MD, MPH Surgeon View Researcher Profile
Diane Hershock, MD, PhD Diane Hershock, MD, PhD Medical Oncologist View Researcher Profile
Jessyka Lighthall, MD Jessyka Lighthall, MD Surgeon View Researcher Profile
Heath Mackley, MD Heath Mackley, MD Radiation Oncologist View Researcher Profile
Marc Rovito, MD Marc Rovito, MD Hematology/Oncologist View Researcher Profile
Brian Saunders, MD Brian Saunders, MD Surgeon View Researcher Profile
Guy Slonimsky Guy Slonimsky Surgeon
Leila Tchelebi, MD Leila Tchelebi, MD Radiation Oncologist View Researcher Profile
Penn State Cancer Institute

Penn State Cancer Institute

400 University Dr
Hershey, PA 17033

Phone: 717-531-6585
Penn State Health Medical Group - Nyes Road Specialties

Penn State Health Medical Group - Nyes Road Specialties

121 N Nyes Rd
Suite C
Harrisburg, PA 17112

Phone: 717-657-4045
Penn State Health Medical Group Camp Hill - Specialties

Penn State Health Medical Group Camp Hill - Specialties

3025 Market St
Entrance A
Camp Hill, PA 17011

Phone: 717-761-8900
Penn State Health Otolaryngology - Head and Neck Surgery/Pediatric Surgery

Penn State Health Otolaryngology - Head and Neck Surgery/Pediatric Surgery

200 Campus Dr
Suite 400 | Entrance 2
Hershey, PA 17033

Phone: 717-531-6822
Support groups offer an opportunity to connect with other patients, caregivers and families. Learn more about support groups offered at Penn State Cancer Institute.

Screenings for hypopharyngeal (HP) cancer are not recommended because it is a rare type of cancer. However, you should visit your primary provider at least once a year for a well visit and see a doctor immediately if you have any concerns about your overall health. 

You can also take steps to lower your risk of developing HP cancer:

  • Avoid tobacco
  • Limit alcohol consumption
  • Eat a well-balanced diet rich in fruits and vegetables
  • Limit salt-cured fish and meats. This includes popular foods such as beef jerky, bacon, corned beef, ceviche, anchovies or dried cod
Hypopharyngeal cancer is a type of head and neck cancer that occurs when cancerous cells develop in the tissues of the hypopharynx, which is the bottom part of the throat. These cells usually originate from the surface of the lining of the throat and form squamous cell carcinoma (cancer).

Symptoms

Hypopharyngeal (HP) cancer symptoms can appear as hoarseness or other voice changes that do not go away within two weeks. This is often an early symptom. Other symptoms include:
  • Airway obstruction, difficulty or noisy breathing
  • An enlarged lymph node or lump in the neck
  • Choking
  • Chronic bad breath
  • Difficulty swallowing that does not go away
  • Ear pain
  • Fatigue
  • Persistent sore throat or a feeling that something is caught in the throat
  • Unexplained weight loss
People may experience those symptoms or have no symptoms; and HP cancer can found during a physical exam. 

Diagnosis

If you experience any of those symptoms or are concerned about your health, schedule an appointment with your primary care provider. Your provider will conduct a complete physical exam and check for swollen lymph nodes. After your exam, your provider may refer you to a head and neck specialist, called an otolaryngologist.

At that appointment, you will answer in-depth questions about your personal and family medical history and describe the severity of your symptoms, including how long you have been experiencing them.

Your doctor may also perform a flexible scope exam during your visit. A local anesthesia will be used to examine and check the extent of any abnormalities.

A biopsy will be ordered if abnormalities are found. The biopsy may take place in the office or it may be done in an operating room under general anesthesia.

Imaging tests may also be used to help identify if the cancer has spread. Your doctor may order:

  • CT scan: CT stands for computed tomography. This test is also called a CAT scan. It takes detailed images of internal organs, bones, soft tissue and blood vessels. Your physician is able to use the cross-sectional images to confirm the presence, size and location of a tumor. 
  • MRI: A magnetic resonance imaging diagnostic test takes detailed pictures of inside your body. It is used to help diagnose cancer and to monitor the effectiveness of treatments. 
  • PET: The positron emission tomography is generally only used in later-stage cancers to determine if cancer has spread to other organs. PET scans are sometimes combined with CT scans to provide a more precise and accurate diagnosis. 

Stages of Hypopharyngeal Cancer

Diagnostic tests and exams will identify if you have HP cancer. Test results will also give your doctor a clear picture of the type of cancer you have. Cancer is often described in stages. Stages describe the severity of cancer and help your doctor determine the best treatment plan for you.

There are four stages of cancer. Later stages (stages 3 and 4) indicate cancer has spread to other organs. Within each stage of cancer, there are often other classifications that describe the type of cancer you have.

Outlook & Prognosis

In general, patients with very early stage HP cancer - stage 1 - have about a 50 percent long-term survival with treatment when the survival statistics are examined over large populations of patients. Higher-stage HP cancer patients have worse survival rates, statistically speaking. The highest stage of HP cancer is stage 4C. Patients who have cancer that has spread to body organs, such as the lungs, are given a stage of 4C. Though these patients can be treated to maximize quality of life and lifespan, this stage of cancer is not usually curable.