Laryngeal & Hypopharyngeal Cancer: Patient Education

Cancer Facts

According to the American Cancer Society:

  • The most recent estimates for laryngeal and hypopharyngeal cancer for the United States are for 2011:
    • 15,000 new cases of laryngeal cancer (11,750 in men and 3,250 in women)
    • 4,000 people (3,150 men and 850 women) will die from laryngeal cancer
  • An estimated 2,850 cases of hypopharyngeal cancer are diagnosed each year (2,250 men and 600 women.
  • These numbers are falling about 2 to 3 percent a year, mainly because fewer people are smoking.

Laryngeal Cancer

Laryngeal cancer is a group of malignant cells that starts in your larynx, also called your voice box.

Your larynx is an important structure: It’s responsible for your speech, as it houses your vocal cords. It’s located in your neck at the top of your windpipe (trachea).

It has the further function, in its opening and closing, of protecting your windpipe from food and drink when you swallow.

Your larynx has three sections:

  • Supraglottis – Above the vocal cords; contains your epiglottis (opens and shuts when you swallow)
  • Glottis – Contains your vocal cords
  • Subglottis – Below your vocal cords

Cancers originating in different sections are treated differently.

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Hypopharyngeal Cancer

Hypopharyngeal cancer is a group of malignant cells that starts in your hypopharynx. Your hypopharynx is the part of your throat between your nasopharynx and your larynx.

The role of your hypopharynx is to ensure the food you eat passes down your esophagus (the tube connecting your mouth to your stomach).

Though laryngeal cancer begins in the larynx and hypopharyngeal cancer begins in the hypopharynx, these two structures are nearby one another and these two cancers are similar; they will be discussed in one section.

Type of Laryngeal & Hypopharyngeal Cancer

The majority of laryngeal and hypopharyngeal cancers are squamous cell carcinomas:

  • Develop from squamous cells in lining of the larynx or hypopharynx
  • Generally begin as pre-cancerous dysplasia
  • Have a good cure rate if caught early
  • If untreated will become an invasive squamous cell cancer that will spread to other parts of the body

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Related Resources

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