What is the hypopharynx?

The hypopharynx is the bottom part of the pharynx (throat), which is a hollow tube that is about 5 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.

What is hypopharyngeal cancer?

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).

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.
  • 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.

What are the symptoms of hypopharyngeal cancer?

The following signs and symptoms might be caused by hypopharyngeal cancer or by other conditions. See your doctor if you have:

  • A lump in the neck.
  • Difficulty/pain associated with swallowing.
  • Voice changes.
  • Ear pain.