Determining the Type of Hypopharyngeal Cancer

Only after a pathologist analyses some cells or actual pieces of tissue from the lesion will your doctor be able to tell you if you have cancer. Your doctor and pathologist should specialise in head and neck cancers because some benign (non-cancerous) lesions can look like cancer on a small biopsy.

Squamous cell carcinoma: These are by far the most common hypopharyngeal cancers (95 percent). They arise from cells lining the hypopharynx.

Squamous cell cancers of the hypopharynx are typically given a grade by a pathologist after looking at the cells under a microscope. Grade means that the tumour falls on a scale from well differentiated (Grade I) to poorly differentiated (Grade IV). It is generally felt that the prognosis for a more well-differentiated cancer is more favourable.

More rarely, other cancers can be found in the hypopharynx as well. Some of them include:

Salivary gland cancers: There are minor salivary glands located under the lining of the throat. Therefore, cancers that we typically see in salivary glands can arise in this region. They include diagnoses such as mucoepidermoid carcinomas, adenocarcinomas and adenoid cystic carcinomas, to name a few. See Salivary Gland Cancer for more information.

 Lymphoma: Lymphoma is cancer of the lymphatic system, which includes lymph nodes, lymph channels, lymphatic fluid and lymphoid tissue. The throat is lined with lymphoid cells. Some major sites of lymphoid tissue include the adenoids in the nasopharynx and palatine tonsils and lingual tonsils in the oropharynx. Therefore, lymphoma might appear as a lump in the throat area.

Mucosal melanoma: These cancers come from skin cells that give skin its colour. In rare cases, melanoma can be found in the lining of the mouth, nose and/or throat.

Other extremely rare cancers of the hypopharynx include:

  • Sarcomas such as chondsarcoma, liposarcoma and synovial sarcoma
  • Malignant fibrous histiocytoma
  • Peripheral Neuroectodermal Tumour (PNET)
  • Cancer spread from another site