Lower Throat or Hypopharyngeal Cancer

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Hypopharyngeal cancer is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the tissues of the hypopharynx. The hypopharynx is the bottom part of the pharynx (throat). The pharynx is a hollow tube about 5 inches long that starts behind the nose, goes down the neck, and ends at the top of the trachea (windpipe) and esophagus (the tube that goes from the throat to the stomach). Air and food pass through the pharynx on the way to the trachea or the esophagus.

Most hypopharyngeal cancers form in squamous cells: the thin, flat cells lining the inside of the hypopharynx. The hypopharynx has 3 different areas. Cancer may be found in 1 or more of these areas.

Use of tobacco products and heavy drinking can affect the risk of developing hypopharyngeal cancer.


Risk factors include the following:

  • Smoking tobacco
  • Chewing tobacco
  • Heavy alcohol use
  • Eating a diet without enough nutrients
  • Having Plummer-Vinson syndrome


These and other signs and symptoms may be caused by hypopharyngeal cancer or by other conditions:

  • A sore throat that does not go away
  • Ear pain
  • A lump in the neck
  • Painful or difficult swallowing
  • A change in voice


The following tests and procedures may be used:

  • Physical exam of the throat
  • CT scan (CAT scan)
  • PET scan (positron emission tomography scan)
  • MRI (magnetic resonance imaging)
  • Bone scan
  • Barium esophagogram
  • Endoscopy
  • Esophagoscopy 
  • Bronchoscopy 
  • Biopsy

Hypopharyngeal Cancer Treatment

Three types of standard treatment are used:

  • Surgery
    • Laryngopharyngectomy
    • Partial laryngopharyngectomy
    • Neck dissection
  • Radiation Therapy
  • Chemotherapy


Content was created using EBSCO’s Health Library. Edits to original content made by Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice.