Hypopharyngeal Cancer Definition, Stages And Treatment

Hypopharyngeal Cancer Definition, Stages And Treatment
The hypopharynx is the bottom part of the pharynx (throat), which is a hollow tube that is about five inches long. The pharynx starts behind the nose, goes down the neck (behind the voice box), and ends at the esophagus (the tube that goes from the throat to the stomach). The pharynx acts as the passageway for air and food that are on the way to the voice box or the esophagus. The hypopharynx is a combination of three anatomical subsites (sections): the piriform sinus, the posterior hypopharyngeal wall, and the posterior cricoid region.

hypopharynx anatomy
Image 1 : Hypopharynx Anatomy


Hypopharyngeal cancer is a disease that occurs when cancerous (malignant) cells develop in the tissues of the hypopharynx. These cells usually originate from the surface of the lining of the throat and form squamous cell carcinoma (cancer).

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People with laryngeal or hypopharyngeal cancer may experience the following symptoms or signs. Sometimes, people with laryngeal or hypopharyngeal cancer do not show any of these symptoms. Or, these symptoms may be caused by a medical condition that is not cancer.
  • Hoarseness or other voice changes that do not go away within two weeks. This is often an early symptom.
  • An enlarged lymph node or lump in the neck
  • Airway obstruction, difficulty breathing, and noisy breathing
  • Persistent sore throat or a feeling that something is caught in the throat
  • Difficulty swallowing that does not go away
  • Ear pain
  • Chronic bad breath
  • Choking
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Fatigue

If you are concerned about one or more of the symptoms or signs on this list, please talk with a doctor and/or dentist, especially if they don’t go away or get worse. Your doctor will ask how long and how often you’ve been experiencing the symptom(s), in addition to other questions. This is to help find out the cause of the problem, called a diagnosis.

What are the stages of hypopharyngeal cancer?
The stages of hypopharyngeal cancer are numbered 0 through IV.
  • Stage 0

Cancer is confined only in the lining of the hypopharynx. There is no spread to lymph nodes.
 hypopharyngeal cancer
Image 2 : Stage 0
  • Stage I

The tumor is in the hypopharynx and is 2 centimeters (about ½ inch) or smaller in size. There is no spread to lymph nodes.
  • Stage II

The tumor is either larger than 2 centimeters, but not larger than 4 centimeters (between about ½ and 1½ inches), and has not spread to the larynx (voice box), OR it is found in more than one area of the hypopharynx or tissues nearby. There is no spread to lymph nodes.
  • Stage III

The tumor can be any size but is confined to the throat, but the cancer has usually also spread to a single lymph node on the same side of the neck, and the lymph node is 3 centimeters (just over 1 inch) or smaller.
  • Stage IV

This stage is divided into Stage IVA, IVB, and IVC.
  • Stages IVA and IVB

This is an advanced stage in which local disease and/or lymph node disease has spread. The spreading may involve movement from the pharynx into nearby soft tissues, such as the voice box, the thyroid gland, or the carotid artery. Neck disease may have spread to several lymph nodes or very large lymph nodes (over 6 centimeters; between 2 and 2½ inches).
  • Stage IVC

The cancer has spread beyond the hypopharynx to other parts of the body.

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How is hypopharyngeal cancer treated at each stage?
  • Stage I

Treatment might include pharyngectomy (removal of part of the pharynx) and surgery to remove lymph nodes or other tissues of the neck. Radiation therapy applied to the lymph nodes of the neck may follow the surgery in some patients. Another option could be to use radiation therapy alone.
  • Stage II

Treatment of Stage II hypopharyngeal cancer might include partial or total laryngopharyngectomy (removal of the larynx and pharynx) and surgery to remove lymph nodes or other tissues of the neck. Radiation therapy applied to the lymph nodes of the neck may follow the surgery in some patients. Chemotherapy might also be given during this radiation therapy. Another option could be to use radiation therapy alone.
  • Stage III and Stage IV

Treatment might include the following:


  1. Radiation therapy before or after surgery, with or without chemotherapy.
  2. Chemotherapy followed by surgery and/or radiation therapy
  3. Chemotherapy given at the same time as radiation therapy
  4. Surgery followed by chemotherapy given at the same time as radiation therapy
  5. Reconstructive surgery to help with eating, breathing, or talking if all or part of the hypopharynx is removed
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