In this section: Hypopharyngeal Cancer

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. Treatment options for Hypopharyngeal Cancer

Following a diagnosis of Hypopharyngeal Cancer, your cancer care team will discuss the treatment options including the possibility of participating in a clinical trial that is suitable for you. 

This is a good time to consider if you would like a
second opinion.

The most suitable treatment of Hypopharyngeal Cancer depends on many things including:

  • size and location of the cancer

  • whether the cancer has spread

  • personal factors (e.g. age, general health and treatment history)

  • types of treatment available (and whether any clinical trials are available) 

  • ​your preferences for treatment

There are three treatment options for Hypopharyngeal Cancer:

  • Surgery — there are a number of operations that can be used to remove Hypopharyngeal Cancer. Some people with large or advanced Hypopharyngeal Cancer may require radiation therapy following surgery

  • Radiation therapy (with or without surgery) — This is usually given with chemotherapy (called chemoradiation)

  • Chemotherapy

The following sections will look at each of these treatment options. 

3D video explainer about Hypophanryngeal Cancer: 

2. Surgery for Hypopharyngeal Cancer

There are a number of different types of operations that can be used to remove Hypopharyngeal Cancer. The type of operation used will depend on the size and the location of the cancer.

The different surgical options for Hypopharyngeal Cancer include:


This is a minimally invasive approach to remove early hypopharyngeal cancers. 

download pdf


This is removal of part of the hypopharynx via an open neck approach. 

download pdf


This is the removal of all the larynx and pharynx. It is different to laryngectomy, where only the larynx (or part of it) is removed. 

download pdf


This involves removal of lymph nodes from your neck. This is important even when there is no sign of cancer in the lymph nodes on your scan, because there is a risk of microscopic cancer in the lymph glands of the neck.

download pdf


This may be considered if a large area of tissue is removed. This may involve taking tissue from another part of the body called a free flap repair. This operation is carried out by a surgeon who specialises in reconstructive surgery, your head and neck surgeon or another surgeon.

download pdf


A tracheostomy is used to create an opening in the trachea (windpipe) in the lower neck, where a tube is inserted to allow air to flow in and out, when you breathe. This is used as swelling after major head and neck surgery may affect your ability to breathe. The tracheostomy tube is usually removed within a week of surgery once normal breathing is possible.

download pdf


  • A gastrostomy tube (called a PEG tube) goes through the skin and the muscles of your abdominal wall into the stomach. Gastrostomy is recommended if feeding is needed for a medium to longer time (months or years).

  • A nasogastric tube goes through the nose down into the stomach. Nasogastric feeding is used for short time (days or weeks).

download pdf  

3. Radiation Therapy for Hypopharyngeal Cancer

The most common radiation therapy approach for Hypopharyngeal Cancer is called external beam radiation. This type of radiation therapy applies radiation from outside the body. 

Radiation therapy can be used in the following ways:


This is a curative treatment option for people with Hypopharyngeal Cancer. The aim of this treatment is to preserve the larynx and its function. It is an alternative to surgery, which may involve removal of the voice box (laryngectomy). Radiation therapy comprehensively treats the cancer of the hypopharynx, the surrounding region and the lymph nodes at both sides of the neck. Radiation therapy is delivered daily (no treatment on weekends) for 7 weeks and can be given as: 

  • definitive radiation therapy alone; or

  • definitive radiation therapy with concurrent chemotherapy (adding chemotherapy to radiation therapy (chemoradiation) to make it more effective).


This is when radiation therapy is given after the surgical removal of the Hypopharyngeal Cancer. Adjuvant Radiation Therapy is used as an additional treatment to kill cancer cells that may not have been removed during surgery and may still be present in the hypopharynx and in the lymph nodes at both sides of the neck. It usually starts about 4 weeks after surgery to allow recovery from surgery. Radiation therapy treatment usually lasts for about 6 weeks. Sometimes chemotherapy is added to the adjuvant radiation therapy (chemoradiation) to make it more effective. 


Radiation therapy is also used to relieve symptoms of advanced Hypopharyngeal Cancer. Symptoms that may require palliative radiation therapy include pain, bleeding, breathing and swallowing difficulties.

4. Chemotherapy for Hypopharyngeal Cancer

Chemotherapy works by destroying or damaging cancer cells. For Hypopharyngeal Cancer, it is usually given into a vein through a needle with a cannula (tube) attached. 

There are a number of ways that chemotherapy may be used to treat Hypopharyngeal Cancer including: 


Sometimes chemotherapy is added to definitive radiation therapy (chemoradiation). It is usually used for advanced stage hypopharyngeal cancers. This may be given once every 3 weeks or once a week throughout the duration of radiation therapy. The addition of chemotherapy makes the radiation more effective at killing cancer cells but also leads to increased side effects in most patients.


This is when chemotherapy is given after surgery, in combination with radiation therapy (chemoradiation). This may be given once every 3 weeks or once a week or every day that radiation therapy is given. The addition of chemotherapy makes the radiation more effective at killing cancer cells but also leads to increased side effects in most patients.


This is when chemotherapy is given before surgery or radiation therapy to help shrink large cancers and make them easier to remove during surgery or target with radiation therapy. 


This is used when the cancer is incurable. The cancer may be too large or has spread too much to be removed by surgery. Palliative chemotherapy helps to slow the growth of cancer and reduce symptoms. It is important to remember that palliative chemotherapy is not as intense as other types and is much less likely to have significant side effects.

Before you start treatment, your medical oncologist will choose one or more chemotherapy medications that will be best to treat the type of cancer you have. 

The chemotherapy medications your doctor chooses may depend on: 

  • whether the treatment is curative or palliative

  • when it is used

  • your medical history


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

  1. Head and Neck Cancer Australia Resources 
  2. External Links to other Head and Neck Cancer Resources