Why Choose Cedars-Sinai Marina del Rey Hospital for Hypopharyngeal Cancer?
At Cedars-Sinai Marina del Rey Hospital a multidisciplinary team of healthcare specialists can provide you with all the attention and care you need if you suffer from hypopharyngeal cancer. From skilled radiation oncologists, medical oncologists to surgeons, and speech-language pathologists, the team will work together to find out what treatment plan and after-treatment therapy is best suited for each individual case of hypopharyngeal cancer.
Hypopharyngeal cancer is a type of cancer that occurs when cells change and divide abnormally in the hypopharynx. The hypopharynx is found at the bottom part of the throat (pharynx), behind the voice box, and it’s part of the digestive and respiratory system.
The invasion of the malignant cells is called metastasis and can spread affecting other tissues in the body. The benign cells will form a tumor, but a benign mass can’t spread; it can only expand in size.
The treatment option depends on the size of the cancerous tumor or the stage of hypopharyngeal cancer. The combination of treatments most commonly used is radiation therapy and chemotherapy (known as chemoradiation). Surgery can be performed as well, but in most cases of hypopharyngeal cancer, surgery is opted for if the tumor reappears after the chemotherapy.
The purpose of radiation therapy is to stop the malignant cells from dividing. This slows tumor growth. In some cases, the tumor is being reduced to a small size or it even disappears through radiation therapy.
Intensity-modulated radiation therapy is a form of radiation therapy that is more efficient because the side effects that can be experienced after the treatment are fewer than in the case of other conventional forms of therapy with radiation.
Chemotherapy uses anti-cancer drugs that can come in the form of pills or injections. More than one drug can be used in combination. Chemotherapy can be prescribed along with radiation therapy to avoid surgery, or it can be done after surgery to prevent the recurrence of the tumor. In case hypopharyngeal cancer can not be cured, chemotherapy is prescribed to slow the development of the tumor.
Symptoms of Hypopharyngeal Cancer
An early symptom of hypopharyngeal cancer might be a sore throat that persists for more than two weeks. Changes in the voice can also be an early symptom.
Other symptoms can manifest through:
- the swelling of the lymph nodes in the neck area
- having difficulties swallowing or even painful swallowing
- ear pain
- difficulty breathing
Some people with hypopharyngeal cancer experience no symptoms. Also, the symptoms mentioned can indicate different health problems than hypopharyngeal cancer.
Diagnosis of Hypopharyngeal Cancer
For making a diagnosis, the healthcare provider must first see the hypopharynx. Using a local anesthetic, the specialist will numb the patient’s nose and throat to prevent gagging or discomfort. After that, a thin flexible tube that has a light at the end will be inserted through the nostril to look at the area in cause. This procedure is called a laryngoscopy. The patient is advised not to eat or drink anything after a laryngoscopy until the numbness fades away.
The healthcare provider can decide from here if further tests are necessary.
The test that can accurately confirm if cancer is present is a biopsy. Your healthcare provider will collect a sample of tissue from the hypopharynx and then a pathologist will examine it using a microscope.
Other tests like imaging tests might be needed to find out if the cancer has spread, or various tests to examine the typology of the tumor in order to establish what treatment is the best fit.
The exact causes for hypopharyngeal cancer are not known, and the presence of the risk factors doesn’t necessarily lead to the development of this type of cancer, but they are important to take into consideration since they increase the likelihood of hypopharyngeal cancer.
Most people diagnosed with hypopharyngeal cancer (or other types of throat cancer) are tobacco users. Smoking or chewing tobacco can impact throat and lung health.
Another risk factor is alcohol. Heavy drinking (more than one alcoholic drink per day) can increase the chances of getting hypopharyngeal cancer. The combination of risk factors increases these chances even more (for example, both tobacco and alcohol consumption).
Throat infections with HPV (Human Papillomavirus) can also lead to this type of cancer, as well as Plummer-Vision Syndrome.
Age also plays its role as a risk factor for hypopharyngeal cancer, people of older age (50+) being at a higher risk than young individuals.
Alternative medicine and treatment are not going to cure hypopharyngeal cancer, but they can help with the symptoms the patient is struggling with. Not to mention that the conventional treatment for cancer has its own side effects that add to the symptoms of the disease.
While undergoing therapy for hypopharyngeal cancer it’s important to take care of your mental state, so methods that help you reduce the stress and help you relax and temporarily detach from your problems are welcomed.
Not all relaxing techniques might work for you, but you can choose what best resonates with you.
Mindfulness and meditation practices are recommended for highly stressful periods of time and not only. Being present, trying to understand the mind-to-body connection, and finding balance can be calming.
Acupuncture and massage might help with sleep quality and they can help ease some chemotherapy side effects like nausea.
Even though it’s not possible to fully guard yourself against health problems like hypopharyngeal cancer, you should consider what risk factors can be excluded from your lifestyle.
Avoid tobacco use as much as possible (smoking, tobacco chewing, and secondhand smoke).
Avoid drinking too much alcohol, and try to have a generally healthy lifestyle, a balanced diet to supply your body with all the nutrients needed.
See a healthcare provider regularly if something is giving you reasons to worry about your health state (lumps on the neck area, difficulty breathing, voice changes, etc.)