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Hypopharyngeal Cancer

Signs and Symptoms of Hypopharyngeal Cancer

In many cases, hypopharyngeal cancers get quite large before patients become aware of symptoms. The most common symptom is increasing difficulty with swallowing, but many other symptoms can also be present.6 Dolan RW, Vaughan CW, Fuleihan N. Symptoms in early head and neck cancer: an inadequate indicator. Otolaryngology--head and neck surgery: official journal of American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery. Nov 1998;119(5):463-467.

  • Pain or difficulty with swallowing in the throat: This can occur because a tumor is in the way of swallowing, and so it becomes difficult or painful to swallow. Also, there can be ulceration and bleeding as the tumor grows, causing pain.
  • A lump in the neck: This will be a symptom of hypopharynx cancer if it has spread to lymph nodes in the neck. This can be the first symptom that brings a patient to the doctor. If you have a neck mass, and your doctor is concerned that it represents cancer that has spread from somewhere else, one of the first places he or she will look is your hypopharynx.
  • Ear pain (particularly on one side, with no other ear problems): Ear pain, also known as otalgia, happens because the nerves of the throat reach the brain through the same pathway as one of the nerves in the ear. Therefore, your brain might interpret a pain in the throat as coming from the ear. This is called referred pain. Consequently, unexplained ear pain that doesn’t go away should be evaluated by a specialist. It is important to understand that most causes of ear pain are due to simple problems such as middle ear infection or dysfunction of the Eustachian tube. TMJ pain due to a problem in the joint located in front of the ear may also present as otalgia.

Other possible symptoms might include:

  • A hoarse voice
  • Weight loss
  • Feeling like there’s something stuck in your throat
  • Bleeding from the mouth
  • Coughing every time you drink liquids
  • Difficult or noisy breathing

But don’t jump to any conclusions. You could have one or more of these symptoms but NOT have hypopharyngeal cancer. There are several non-cancerous causes of the same symptoms. That’s why you need to see a specialist.

References

1 Harrison DF. Pathology of hypopharyngeal cancer in relation to surgical management. The Journal of laryngology and otology. Apr 1970;84(4):349-367.

2 Shah JP, Shaha AR, Spiro RH, Strong EW. Carcinoma of the hypopharynx. Am J Surg. Oct 1976;132(4):439-443.

3 Menvielle G, Luce D, Goldberg P, Leclerc A. Smoking, alcohol drinking, occupational exposures and social inequalities in hypopharyngeal and laryngeal cancer. International journal of epidemiology. Aug 2004;33(4):799-806.

4 Larsson LG, Sandstrom A, Westling P. Relationship of Plummer-Vinson disease to cancer of the upper alimentary tract in Sweden. Cancer research. Nov 1975;35(11 Pt. 2):3308-3316.

5 Marchand JL, Luce D, Leclerc A, et al. Laryngeal and hypopharyngeal cancer and occupational exposure to asbestos and man-made vitreous fibers: results of a case-control study. Am J Ind Med. Jun 2000;37(6):581-589.

6 Dolan RW, Vaughan CW, Fuleihan N. Symptoms in early head and neck cancer: an inadequate indicator. Otolaryngology--head and neck surgery: official journal of American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery. Nov 1998;119(5):463-467.

7 Spiro RH, Thaler HT, Hicks WF, Kher UA, Huvos AH, Strong EW. The importance of clinical staging of minor salivary gland carcinoma. Am J Surg. 1991 Oct;162(4):330-6.

8 Krause CJ, Carey TE, Ott RW, Hurbis C, McClatchey KD, Regezi JA. Human squamous cell carcinoma. Establishment and characterization of new permanent cell lines. Arch Otolaryngol. Nov 1981;107(11):703-710.

9 Referenced with permission from The NCCN Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology (NCCN Guidelines®) for Head and Neck Cancers V.2.2016. © National Comprehensive Cancer Network, Inc 2016. All rights reserved. Accessed December 7, 2016. To view the most recent and complete version of the guideline, go online to www.nccn.org.

10 Piccirillo JF, Costas I, Reichman ME. Chapter 2: Cancers of the Head and Neck. Ries LAG, Young JL, Keel GE, Eisner MP, Lin YD, Horner M-J (editors). SEER Survival Monograph: Cancer Survival Among Adults: U.S. SEER Program, 1988-2001, Patient and Tumor Characteristics. National Cancer Institute, SEER Program, NIH Pub. No. 07-6215, Bethesda, MD, 2007.