Hypopharynx Cancer Treatment

The pharynx is an area in the neck and throat. It is divided into three sections:

  • the nasopharynx is the top section
  • oropharynx is the middle section
  • the hypopharynx is the lowest section

The hypopharynx is the below the back of the throat and not visible during a routine office exam.

Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy, combined with chemotherapy, (chemoradiation) is the most common treatment for cancer of the hypopharynx.

Intensity-Modulated Radiation Therapy (IMRT)

Radiation therapy can be prescribed before surgery, after surgery, or sometimes as the only treatment. Radiation uses high-energy X-rays, electron beams, or radioactive isotopes to destroy cancer cells.

IMRT uses a computer to deliver precise doses of radiation to a tumor or an area of a tumor. This minimizes radiation exposure to the surrounding normal tissue. IMRT allows the use of more effective radiation doses with fewer side effects than conventional radiotherapy techniques.
Radiation therapy, including IMRT, stops cancer cells from dividing. The growth of the tumor is slowed. Radiotherapy also destroys cancer cells and can shrink or eliminate tumors.

Radiation therapy involves 5-6 weeks of daily treatments.

Chemotherapy

Medical oncologists administer chemotherapy if the cancer has spread to lymph nodes or other organs. The medicine circulates in the blood and disrupts the growth of the cancer cells. Chemotherapy medications are taken by mouth or given through a vein for several months.

Chemotherapy is prescribed for different reasons:

  • together with radiotherapy as an alternative to surgery (called chemoradiation)
  • after surgery to decrease the risk of the cancer returning
  • to slow the growth of a tumor and control symptoms when the cancer cannot be cured (palliative treatment).

Surgery

In most cases, surgery is only required if the tumor returns after chemoradiation therapy. Surgery is also used on selective lesions.

Laser microsurgery can be used on small lesions in some areas of the hypopharynx, but most will need surgical removal of the larynx and the pharynx (laryngo-pharyngectomy.)

If the lymph nodes in the neck are affected, a neck dissection may be needed to remove the nodes.