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Cancer Health Center

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


Almost all hypopharyngeal cancers are mucosal squamous cell carcinomas (SCCs).[1] Multiple primary tumors are not uncommon. Approximately 25% of patients in a retrospective study of 150 cases were found to have second primary tumors.[14] Field cancerization may be responsible, in part, for the multiple, synchronous, primary malignant neoplasms that occur in patients with hypopharyngeal cancer.[1,14,15,16] The concept of field cancerization, originally described in 1953, proposes that tumors develop in a multifocal fashion within a field of tissue that has been chronically exposed to carcinogens.[17]

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]

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