Last edited 12/2018 and last reviewed 01/2022
Pharyngeal cancer occurs in three principal locations:
- the oropharynx, which includes the under surface of the soft palate, the base of the tongue and the tonsils
- the hypopharynx (bottom part of the throat)
- the nasopharynx (behind the nose)
The most common site of cancer within the pharynx is the tonsil but even this is fairly rare, with just over 400 new cases per year in England.
The incidence of pharyngeal cancer (throat) in 2000 has been stated as (1):
- 4.0 per 100,000 men
- 1.6 per 100,000 women
- geographical incidence of pharyngeal cancer (aside from nasopharynx)
is similar to that of oral cancers
- relatively low in England and Wales, but higher among those with a South Asian background; among immigrants from the Indian sub-continent, the risk of death from cancer of the pharynx is five times that of British natives
- cancer of the nasopharynx is particularly common among people of Southern Chinese origin
Cancers of the oropharynx and hypopharynx are, like oral cancer and cancer of the larynx, usually squamous cell carcinomas which originate in the epithelial cells that line the throat. Cancer of the nasopharynx has a different aetiology and natural history.
The symptoms of cancer of the pharynx differ according to the type
- common symptoms are a persistent sore throat, a lump in the mouth or throat, and otalgia
- problems with swallowing and ear pain are common symptoms and hoarseness is not uncommon
- nasopharynx cancer is most likely to cause a lump in the neck, but may also cause nasal obstruction, deafness and post-nasal discharge
- 60% of men survive hypopharyngeal cancer for at least one year, and this is predicted to fall to 27% surviving for five years or more, as shown by age-standardised net survival for patients diagnosed with hypopharyngeal cancer during 2009-2013 in England. Survival for women is similar with 61% surviving for one year or more, and 30% predicted to survive for at least five years.
- 84% of men survive oropharyngeal cancer for at least one year, and this is predicted to fall to 66% surviving for five years or more, as shown by age-standardised net survival for patients diagnosed with oropharyngeal cancer during 2009-2013 in England. Survival for women is similar with 84% surviving for one year or more, and 66% predicted to survive for at least five years.
More details concerning pharyngeal cancers with respect to their different sites of origin are provided by the linked items.