In this section: Hypopharyngeal Cancer


What do we mean by 'Hypopharyngeal Cancer'? It is a type of Throat Cancer that affects the hypopharynx, which is in the lower part of the neck. If it's not the cancer type you're looking for, please explore the information about other types of Throat Cancers or other types of Head and Neck Cancers.

All the information in this section is available in a PDF.
Download it here.

1. Introduction to Hypopharyngeal Cancer
2. Symptoms, signs and tests of Hypopharyngeal Cancer

3. Treatment for Hypopharyngeal Cancer

1. What is Hypopharyngeal Cancer?

Hypopharyngeal Cancer is a throat cancer that forms in the hypopharynx (lower part of the throat).

Cancer occurs when cells become abnormal, grow uncontrollably and have the potential to spread to other parts of the body. These cells build up to form a mass (or lump). 

Hypopharyngeal Cancer often occurs in pockets on either side of the hypopharynx (called the piriform sinuses). Most Hypopharyngeal Cancers are squamous cell carcinomas, arising from the cells lining the inside of the throat.

The symptoms and treatment options for Hypopharyngeal Cancer depend on the location of the cancer as well as several other factors such as how large it is, and how far it has spread. You can read about symptoms, signs and tests here. If you have any of these symptoms for more than a few weeks, talk to your doctor as early as possible. They might be able to help diagnose and treat you.

Watch this 3D video explainer about Hypophanryngeal Cancer: 

2. What is the hypopharynx?

The pharynx is the medical term for the throat. It has three parts:

  1. nasopharynx (upper throat, behind the nose)

  2. ​oropharynx (mid throat, including the tonsils)

  3. hypopharynx (lower throat)

The hypopharynx, the lowest part of the throat, leads into the oesophagus, which is sometimes also called the gullet and is located behind the larynx (voice box).

3. What does the hypopharynx do?

The larynx, hypopharynx and oesophagus all work together to make sure food and liquids are directed to the stomach when you swallow.

The epiglottis and the vocal cords close tightly when you swallow, blocking food entering the windpipe.

The laryngeal muscles and nerves control the vocal cords and the swallowing action and may be damaged by cancers of the larynx and hypopharynx.

Diagram of the hypopharynx and surrounding areas: 

4. What causes Hypopharyngeal Cancer?

Doctors often can't explain why a person gets cancer. But we do know what makes some cancers more likely.

The two main causes of hypopharyngeal cancer are:

  1. Smoking (cigarettes, cigars or pipes) or using smokeless tobacco (snuff and chewing tobacco) — If a person smokes or has smoked in the past, they have a higher risk of getting hypopharyngeal cancer than someone who does not smoke. 

  2. Drinking alcohol — If a person drinks a lot of alcohol over many years, they have a higher risk of getting hypopharyngeal cancer, especially when combined with smoking.

Three out of four people with Hypopharyngeal Cancer have been a smoker or consumed alcohol regularly for a number of years. 

Get information about quitting smoking and reducing how much alcohol you drink

Other factors that may increase the risk of Hypopharyngeal Cancer are:

  • Being male – In Australia, men are 3 times more likely than women to get hypopharyngeal cancer 

  • Age – most hypopharyngeal cancers occur in people aged 55 years and over

  • Exposure to certain substances - like asbestos, wood dust, paint fumes and certain chemicals 

  • Poor diet - low in fruits and vegetables may be a risk factor  

All the information in this section is available in a PDF.
Download it here.


1. Introduction to Hypopharyngeal Cancer

  • What is Hypopharyngeal Cancer?
  • What is the Hypopharyx?
  • What does the Hypopharynx do?
  • What causes Hypopharyngeal Cancer?

2. Symptoms, signs and tests of Hypopharyngeal Cancer

  • Signs and Symptoms of Hypopharyngeal Cancer
  • Tests for Hypopharyngeal Cancer

3. Treatment for Hypopharyngeal Cancer

  • Surgery 
  • Radiation Therapy
  • Chemotherapy
  1. Head and Neck Cancer Australia Resources 
  2. External Links to other Head and Neck Cancer Resources