What Is the Difference Between Nasopharyngeal and Hypopharyngeal Cancer?

Nasopharyngeal cancer and hypopharyngeal cancer are similar diagnoses in that both affect the throat. However, each condition develops in a different part of the throat, produces unique symptoms and requires a different approach to treatment. Nasopharyngeal cancer develops in the nasopharynx – the top portion of the throat behind the nose, while hypopharyngeal cancer develops in the hypopharynx – the bottom portion of the throat behind the larynx (also considered the entrance to the esophagus). Both conditions can spread to the esophagus, thyroid gland, trachea, larynx or lymph nodes in the neck.

What are the symptoms of nasopharyngeal and hypopharyngeal cancers?

The most common symptoms of nasopharyngeal cancer are nasal congestion, frequent nosebleeds, recurrent ear infections and blood in the saliva. The most common symptoms of hypopharyngeal cancer, on the other hand, are a sore throat and difficulty swallowing. Both conditions can lead to swollen lymph nodes in the neck, which can be felt when touching the tender area behind the jaw.

How are nasopharyngeal and hypopharyngeal cancers treated?

Oncologists may recommend surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy or any combination of the three for patients with nasopharyngeal or hypopharyngeal cancer. However, the exact approach to treatment tends to be slightly different for each condition. A laryngopharyngectomy, for instance, is a specific type of surgery that is commonly used to address hypopharyngeal cancer but less frequently used for nasopharyngeal cancer treatment. Specific chemotherapy drugs may also be recommended for each of these diagnoses.

At Moffitt Cancer Center, every patient’s treatment plan is tailored to his or her specific diagnosis and unique needs. Patients with nasopharyngeal and hypopharyngeal cancers can consult with the multispecialty team in our Head and Neck Oncology Program regarding their various options, which go beyond traditional therapies to include clinical trials and several types of supportive care. By taking a comprehensive, patient-centric approach to cancer treatment, we’re able to help our patients achieve the best possible outcomes and quality of life.

If you’d like to learn more about nasopharyngeal and hypopharyngeal cancer treatment at Moffitt, call 1-888-663-3888 or submit a new patient registration form online. No referral is required to request an appointment.