What is Hypopharyngeal Cancer?
Hypopharyngeal cancer is a malignant cancer in which the cancer cells start its growth in the region where the larynx and the esophagus joins, which is known as hypopharynx. This cancer is one of the rarest kinds of cancer and has the highest mortality rate. It starts growing in the tissues that are deep inside.
Stages of Hypopharyngeal Cancer
The stages of hypopharyngeal cancer are as follows:
In stage 0 hypopharyngeal cancer, the cancer has grown only in the inner lining of the hypopharynx and is shown only in the outer layer of it. In this stage, the cancer cells have not spread.
This is the stage of hypopharyngeal cancer where the cells have started growing deeper but only one part is affected and has not grown more than two centimeters inside. The nearby lymph node or organs are still unaffected in this stage.
In stage II hypopharyngeal cancer, the cancerous cells have grown in more than one part of the hypopharynx or it has to spread to other organs. In this stage, there are also possibilities of the cells growing deeper than 2 centimeters and less than 4 centimeters. Cancer has not yet reached the nearby lymph node or organs.
In stage III hypopharyngeal cancer, the tumor is much larger than 4 cms and it has started affecting the vocal cords and the esophagus activities. The lymph nodes are yet undisturbed.
At stage IVA of hypopharyngeal cancer, the tumor has grown further into the thyroid cartilages or the hyoid bone or the thyroid gland or to any muscles nearby. In this case, either the cells have not reached the nearby lymph nodes or it might be possible that it has reached the lymph node on one side of the neck. Cancer cells are yet to reach distant body parts. This is also called a moderately advanced local disease.
Stage IVB hypopharyngeal cancer, cancer usually starts affecting the spine in the neck area. It might also grow down to the lungs. The disease is yet to strike the other parts of the body.
Here, the tumor can be of any size, it might have grown out to areas outside hypopharynx and has spread to distant organs as well.
How are the Stages of Hypopharyngeal Cancer Determined?
Once the hypopharyngeal cancer is diagnosed, the doctor examines the cancer cells to figure out the stage and how far has hypopharyngeal cancer spread or to what extent has it affected the body. The process where the doctor determines the stage of the cancer is called staging.
The stages of hypopharyngeal cancer are determined based on a few sets of information. They are:
- The size of the tumor (T). Depending on the extent of growth of the tumor and to what extent it has spread and reached other organs, the stage is decided.
- By its spread till the other lymph nodes (N). The doctors need to check if cancer has affected the nearby nodes. If yes, then how much it has grown.
- The spread of the cells (metastasis) in the distant areas as well. This is when cancer spreads to different parts of the body like the liver, lungs or bones etc.
Causes of Hypopharyngeal Cancer
Few factors that might lead to the growth of cancerous cells in this region are:
Symptoms of Hypopharyngeal Cancer
- A sore throat in one particular area which recurs even after treatment
- Swollen lymph nodes in the neck area
- Strong and prominent pain in the throat and neck region is a common symptom of hypopharyngeal cancer
- Pain that travels from the throat to the ears
- Noticeable voice changes is also a symptom of hypopharyngeal cancer.
Diagnosis of Hypopharyngeal Cancer
When a patient shows up symptoms of Hypopharyngeal Cancer, the first step the doctor will take is to check the fever, blood pressure and general health conditions. Followed with this, the patient would be undergoing the following tests as suggested by the doctor:
- Physical examination is done of the inflamed lymph nodes in the neck area and the abnormal areas inside the throat with a mirror.
- MRI is also suggested for a detailed view of the areas. Also called Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Imaging (NMRI), the process is to take pictures with the help of a magnet and radio waves.
- Computed Tomography or CT scan is done to get clear pictures of areas from different angles. The process is also known as computerized axial tomography.
- X-ray of neck, chest, bone, head and other organs are done to check the condition inside.
- Endoscopy is done to view the hypopharyngeal area clearly which couldn’t be checked during the physical exam. During this process, a tissue sample is taken for further tests and biopsy.
- X-ray of esophagus is also done which is known as Barium Esophagogram. The patient is asked to drink liquid containing barium which gives a coating to the esophagus and the X-ray becomes easier.
- Biopsy to examine the cancer cells.
- Bronchoscopy is done to check the inner areas of trachea and lungs.
Treatment of Hypopharyngeal Cancer
Cancer in hypopharynx can be treated in various ways. The elimination of the organ is an option when the hypopharyngeal cancer is at an early stage. The doctor first works towards the removal of cancer cells from the organs. The treatment is decided keeping a lot of things in mind. The patient’s appearance, the way he feels, works, acts or looks everything has to be kept in mind before taking any step. The hypopharyngeal cancer treatment can make a prominent impact on the patient; therefore, it has to be really carefully carried out.
Radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and surgery are the most common treatments for hypopharyngeal cancer but are done based on the treatment planned by the doctor. Either of these treatments can be given or a combination of these therapies might be offered to a patient depending on the stage of hypopharyngeal cancer. This aggravates the chances to kill the malignant cells.
Nevertheless, every patient has a different cancer condition or stage. Their body might respond to treatments differently. Several side effects may show up to these hypopharyngeal cancer treatments and can give rise to a different complication. This must be anticipated and thought about before starting the treatment.
Survival Rate for Hypopharyngeal Cancer
33% of the hypopharyngeal cancer patients survive based on the 5-year. If hypopharyngeal cancer is detected early, when it has only developed locally, the survival rate is 53%. 39% of the hypopharyngeal cancer patients survive when in stage II and stage III. Only 24% patients survive in the metastatic stage. Nearly 54% of patients are diagnosed with hypopharyngeal cancer in this stage.