What is hypopharyngeal cancer?
Hypopharyngeal cancer is a malignant tumour that starts in the cells of the hypopharynx. Malignant means that it can spread, or metastasize, to other parts of the body.
The hypopharynx is part of the pharynx, or the throat. The pharynx is part of the digestive and respiratory systems. It is divided into 3 parts. The nasopharynx is the top part of the pharynx. The oropharynx is the middle part of the pharynx. The hypopharynx is the bottom part of the pharynx, leading to the esophagus.
Cells in the hypopharynx sometimes change and no longer grow or behave normally. These changes may lead to benign conditions such as Plummer-Vinson syndrome, Zenker’s diverticulum or cysts. They can also lead to benign tumours such as benign tumours of the minor salivary glands or lipomas. Benign conditions and tumours are not cancerous. But in some cases, changes to cells of the hypopharynx can cause cancer.
Most often, hypopharyngeal cancer starts in flat, thin cells called squamous cells. These cells line the inside of the hypopharynx. This type of cancer is called squamous cell carcinoma of the hypopharynx.
Rare types of hypopharyngeal cancer can also develop. These include minor salivary gland carcinomas and neuroendocrine tumours.