Hypopharyngeal Cancer

General Information | Treatment Options | Additional Resources

Treatment
  • Overview
  • Standard Treatment
  • Clinical Trials
  • Treatment By Stage

There are different types of treatment for patients with hypopharyngeal cancer.

Different types of treatment are available for patients with hypopharyngeal cancer. Some treatments are standard (the currently used treatment), and some are being tested in clinical trials. A treatment clinical trial is a research study meant to help improve current treatments or obtain information on new treatments for patients with cancer. When clinical trials show that a new treatment is better than the standard treatment, the new treatment may become the standard treatment. Patients may want to think about taking part in a clinical trial. Some clinical trials are open only to patients who have not started treatment.

Follow-up tests may be needed.

Some of the tests that were done to diagnose the cancer or to find out the stage of the cancer may be repeated. Some tests will be repeated in order to see how well the treatment is working. Decisions about whether to continue, change, or stop treatment may be based on the results of these tests. This is sometimes called re-staging.

Some of the tests will continue to be done from time to time after treatment has ended. The results of these tests can show if your condition has changed or if the cancer has recurred (come back). These tests are sometimes called follow-up tests or check-ups.

For hypopharyngeal cancer, follow-up to check for recurrence should include careful head and neck exams once a month in the first year after treatment ends, every 2 months in the second year, every 3 months in the third year, and every 6 months thereafter.

Three types of standard treatment are used:

Surgery

Surgery (removing the cancer in an operation) is a common treatment for all stages of hypopharyngeal cancer. The following surgical procedures may be used:

  • Laryngopharyngectomy: Surgery to remove the larynx (voice box) and part of the pharynx (throat).
  • Partial laryngopharyngectomy: Surgery to remove part of the larynx and part of the pharynx. A partial laryngopharyngectomy prevents loss of the voice.
  • Neck dissection: Surgery to remove lymph nodes and other tissues in the neck.

Even if the doctor removes all the cancer that can be seen at the time of the surgery, some patients may be given chemotherapy or radiation therapy after surgery to kill any cancer cells that are left. Treatment given after the surgery, to increase the chances of a cure, is called adjuvant therapy.

Radiation therapy

Radiation therapy is a cancer treatment that uses high-energy x-rays or other types of radiation to kill cancer cells. There are two types of radiation therapy. External radiation therapy uses a machine outside the body to send radiation toward the cancer. Internal radiation therapy uses a radioactive substance sealed in needles, seeds, wires, or catheters that are placed directly into or near the cancer. The way the radiation therapy is given depends on the type and stage of the cancer being treated.

Radiation therapy may be more effective in patients who have stopped smoking before beginning treatment. External radiation therapy to the thyroid or the pituitary gland may change the way the thyroid gland works. The thyroid gland may be tested before and after therapy to make sure it is working properly.

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is a cancer treatment that uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells, either by killing the cells or by stopping the cells from dividing. When chemotherapy is taken by mouth or injected into a vein or muscle, the drugs enter the bloodstream and can reach cancer cells throughout the body (systemic chemotherapy). When chemotherapy is placed directly into the spinal column, an organ, or a body cavity such as the abdomen, the drugs mainly affect cancer cells in those areas (regional chemotherapy). The way the chemotherapy is given depends on the type and stage of the cancer being treated.

Chemotherapy may be used to shrink the tumor before surgery or radiation therapy. This is called neoadjuvant chemotherapy.

New types of treatment are being tested in clinical trials.

Information about clinical trials is available from the NCI Web site.

Patients may want to think about taking part in a clinical trial.

For some patients, taking part in a clinical trial may be the best treatment choice. Clinical trials are part of the cancer research process. Clinical trials are done to find out if new cancer treatments are safe and effective or better than the standard treatment.

Many of today's standard treatments for cancer are based on earlier clinical trials. Patients who take part in a clinical trial may receive the standard treatment or be among the first to receive a new treatment.

Patients who take part in clinical trials also help improve the way cancer will be treated in the future. Even when clinical trials do not lead to effective new treatments, they often answer important questions and help move research forward.

Patients can enter clinical trials before, during, or after starting their cancer treatment.

Some clinical trials only include patients who have not yet received treatment. Other trials test treatments for patients whose cancer has not gotten better. There are also clinical trials that test new ways to stop cancer from recurring (coming back) or reduce the side effects of cancer treatment.

Clinical trials are taking place in many parts of the country. See the Treatment Options section that follows for links to current treatment clinical trials. These have been retrieved from NCI's clinical trials database.

A link to a list of current clinical trials is included for each treatment section. For some types or stages of cancer, there may not be any trials listed. Check with your doctor for clinical trials that are not listed here but may be right for you.

Stage I Hypopharyngeal Cancer

Treatment of stage I hypopharyngeal cancer may include the following:

  • Laryngopharyngectomy and neck dissection with or without high-dose radiation therapy to the lymph nodes of the neck.
  • Partial laryngopharyngectomy with or without high-dose radiation therapy to the lymph nodes on both sides of the neck.

Check for U.S. clinical trials from NCI's PDQ Cancer Clinical Trials Registry that are now accepting patients with stage I hypopharyngeal cancer.

Stage II Hypopharyngeal Cancer

Treatment of stage II hypopharyngeal cancer may include the following:

  • Laryngopharyngectomy and neck dissection. High-dose radiation therapy to the lymph nodes of the neck may be given before or after surgery.
  • Partial laryngopharyngectomy. High-dose radiation therapy to the lymph nodes of the neck may be given before or after surgery.
  • Chemotherapy given during or after radiation therapy or after surgery.
  • A clinical trial of chemotherapy followed by radiation therapy or surgery.

Check for U.S. clinical trials from NCI's PDQ Cancer Clinical Trials Registry that are now accepting patients with stage II hypopharyngeal cancer.

Stage III Hypopharyngeal Cancer

Treatment of stage III hypopharyngeal cancer may include the following:

  • Radiation therapy before or after surgery.
  • Chemotherapy given during or after radiation therapy or after surgery.
  • A clinical trial of chemotherapy followed by surgery and/or radiation therapy.
  • A clinical trial of chemotherapy given at the same time as radiation therapy.
  • A clinical trial of surgery followed by chemotherapy given at the same time as radiation therapy.

Treatment and follow-up of stage III hypopharyngeal cancer is complex and is ideally overseen by a team of specialists with experience and expertise in treating this type of cancer. If all or part of the hypopharynx is removed, the patient may need plastic surgery and other special help with breathing, eating, and talking.

Check for U.S. clinical trials from NCI's PDQ Cancer Clinical Trials Registry that are now accepting patients with stage III hypopharyngeal cancer.

Stage IV Hypopharyngeal Cancer

Treatment of stage IV hypopharyngeal cancer that can be treated with surgery may include the following:

  • Radiation therapy before or after surgery.
  • A clinical trial of chemotherapy followed by surgery and/or radiation therapy.
  • A clinical trial of surgery followed by chemotherapy given at the same time as radiation therapy.

Surgical treatment and follow-up of stage IV hypopharyngeal cancer is complex and is ideally overseen by a team of specialists with experience and expertise in treating this type of cancer. If all or part of the hypopharynx is removed, the patient may need plastic surgery and other special help with breathing, eating, and talking.

Treatment of stage IV hypopharyngeal cancer that cannot be treated with surgery may include the following:

  • Radiation therapy.
  • Chemotherapy given at the same time as radiation therapy.
  • A clinical trial of radiation therapy with chemotherapy.

Check for U.S. clinical trials from NCI's PDQ Cancer Clinical Trials Registry that are now accepting patients with stage IV hypopharyngeal cancer.

Treatment Options for Recurrent Hypopharyngeal Cancer

Treatment of recurrent hypopharyngeal cancer may include the following:

  • Surgery.
  • Radiation therapy.
  • Chemotherapy.
  • A clinical trial of chemotherapy.

Check for U.S. clinical trials from NCI's PDQ Cancer Clinical Trials Registry that are now accepting patients with recurrent hypopharyngeal cancer.

Cancer information from the NCI PDQ service