Pharyngeal Cancer Information

What is Pharyngeal Cancer?

The pharynx, often called the throat, is a hollow tube about 5 inches long that starts behind the nose and goes down to the neck to become part of the esophagus (tube that goes to the stomach). Air and food pass through the pharynx on the way to the windpipe (trachea) or the esophagus. Cancer of the pharynx is often categorized as follows:

  • The nasopharynx is behind the nose and is the upper part of the throat. The nares, the holes in the nose through which people breathe, lead into the nasopharynx. Two openings on the side of the nasopharynx lead into the ear. Cancer of the nasopharynx most commonly starts in the cells that line the oropharynx.

  • The oropharynx is the middle part of the throat. The oropharynx includes the soft palate (the back of the mouth), the base of the tongue, and the tonsils. Cancer of the oropharynx most commonly starts in the cells that line the oropharynx.

  • The hypopharynx is the bottom part of the throat. Cancer of the hypopharynx most commonly starts in the cells that line the hypopharynx, called squamous cells.

A doctor should be seen if a person has a sore throat that does not go away, trouble swallowing, a lump in the back of the mouth or throat, a change in the voice, or pain in the ear.

If there are pharyngeal cancer symptoms, a doctor will examine the throat using a mirror and lights. The doctor will also feel the throat for lumps. If tissue that is not normal is found, the doctor will need to cut out a small piece and look at it under the microscope to see if there are any pharyngeal cancer cells. This is called a biopsy.

The chance of recovery (prognosis) depends on where the cancer is in the throat, whether the cancer is just in the throat or has spread to other tissues (the stage), and the patient's general state of health. After the pharyngeal cancer treatment, a doctor should be seen regularly because there is a chance of having a second cancer in the head or neck region.

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