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Hypopharyngeal Cancer Treatment (PDQ®): Treatment - Health Professional Information [NCI] - General Information About Hypopharyngeal Cancer


Clinically, cancers of the hypopharynx tend to be aggressive and demonstrate a natural history that is characterized by diffuse local spread, early metastasis, and a relatively high rate of distant spread. More than 50% of patients with hypopharyngeal cancer have clinically positive cervical nodes at the time of presentation. In 50% of these individuals, a neck mass is the presenting symptom.[2,18,19] In a retrospective study of 78 cases of hypopharyngeal cancer, other symptoms in addition to a neck mass (25.6%) included dysphagia (46.1%), odynophagia (44.8%), voice change (16.3%), and otalgia (14.2%).[2] A voice change due to pyriform sinus or postcricoid lesions is a late symptom that usually indicates invasion into the larynx or the recurrent laryngeal nerve.[1]

In a large, retrospective study of patients with SCC of the larynx and hypopharynx, 87% of patients with pyriform sinus SCC were found to have stage III or stage IV disease; 82% of patients with SCC of the posterior pharyngeal wall were found to have stage III or stage IV disease.[20] As many as 17% of hypopharyngeal SCCs may be associated with distant metastases when clinically diagnosed.[20] This is quite different from the rate of distant metastasis detected at autopsy, which has been reported to be as much as 60%.[21] A relatively high incidence of delayed regional (i.e., 2 or more years after completion of primary therapy) and distant metastatic disease in hypopharyngeal SCC is related to the advanced stage of the disease at diagnosis. Almost 33% of pyriform sinus tumors may be associated with delayed regional metastases.[20]

The treatment of hypopharyngeal cancer is controversial, in part because of its low incidence and the inherent difficulty in conducting adequately powered, prospective, randomized clinical studies.[22] Therefore, it is difficult to define the ideal therapy for a specific site or stage of hypopharyngeal cancer. In general, both surgery and radiation therapy are the mainstays of most curative efforts aimed at this cancer. In recent years, chemotherapy has been added to the treatment strategies for selected advanced presentations of hypopharyngeal cancer.[23] In pyriform sinus cancer, neoadjuvant chemotherapy followed by radiation therapy may afford larynx preservation without jeopardizing survival.[24]

Chronic pulmonary and hepatic diseases related to the excessive use of tobacco and alcohol are found in patients with hypopharyngeal cancer. Recognition of these comorbidities is essential in the formulation of an appropriate treatment plan.[1] The primary prognostic factors for hypopharyngeal SCC are the following:[1,25,26]

  • Stage.
  • Age.
  • Performance status.

Factors that contribute to an overall poor prognosis with hypopharyngeal SCC include the following:

  • Presentation at a late stage.
  • Multisite involvement within the hypopharynx.
  • Unrestricted soft-tissue tumor growth.
  • An extensive regional lymphatic network allowing development of metastases.
  • Restricted surgical options for complete resection.

WebMD Public Information from the National Cancer Institute

Last Updated: February 25, 2014
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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