Laryngeal cancer is defined by the presence of malignant cells on the larynx or voice box. Hypopharyngeal cancer is caused by malignant cells that develop at the base of the pharynx (throat). Both types of cancer usually appear as squamous cell carcinomas, abnormalities in the flat, round cells of the larynx and pharynx. Both are considered to be rare forms of the disease. Less than 200,000 cases of laryngeal cancer and 2,500 cases of hypopharyngeal cancer are diagnosed in the United States annually.
Laryngeal & Hypopharyngeal Cancer Signs & Symptoms
Smokers carry the greatest risk of developing larynx or hypopharyngeal cancer. Chewing tobacco and alcohol can also cause both types of the disease. Other symptoms of laryngeal cancer include:
- Persistent sore throat
- Pain when swallowing
- Pain in the ear
- A lump in the throat
- Hoarse or scratchy voice
Other symptoms of hypopharyngeal cancer can include:
- Swollen lymph nodes in the neck
- Persistent sore throat (even after being treated)
- Pain that spreads from the throat to the ears
- Difficulty swallowing
- Change in voice
Both forms of cancer can be detected during a routine physical exam. In order to make a definitive diagnosis or laryngeal cancer, a doctor may order a laryngoscopy, a procedure in which the doctor examines the patient’s voice box with a mirror or thin lighted tube called a laryngoscope.
For hypolaryngeal cancer, the doctor may order a laryngoscopy or an endoscopy, a procedure in which the doctor looks further down the throat with a long, thin, lighted tube, or a biopsy, a tissue specimen collected during one of these procedures and examined under a microscope. The doctor may also order a CT scan to detect any abnormal masses in the body.
Laryngeal & Hypopharyngeal Cancer Treatment
Both laryngeal cancer and hypolaryngeal cancer can be treated effectively with common treatment methods—chemotherapy, radiation, surgery, or some combination of the three. Doctors are looking into more experimental options, such as chemoprevention (using a combination of drugs and vitamins to prevent cancer or protect against a recurrence) and radiosensitizers (drugs that increase a malignant tumor’s sensitivity to radiation therapy). Both of these options are currently being studied in clinical trials.
Laryngeal & Hypopharyngeal Cancer Outlook
A patient’s prognosis depends on the size, location, and stage of the mass. If a patient is successfully treated for laryngeal or hypolaryngeal cancer but they continue to smoke or drink, their risk of recurrence is much greater.