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ON THIS PAGE: You will find some basic information about this disease and the parts of the body it may affect. This is the first page of Cancer.Net’s Guide to Laryngeal and Hypopharyngeal Cancer. To see other pages, use the colored boxes on the right side of your screen. Think of those boxes as a roadmap to this full guide. Or, click “Next” at the bottom of each page.
About the larynx and hypopharynx
The larynx, commonly called the voice box, is a tube-shaped organ in the neck that is important for breathing, talking, and swallowing. It is located at the top of the windpipe or trachea. The front walls protrude from the neck to form what most people call the Adam’s apple. The larynx contains the vocal folds (vocal cords) that vibrate to make sound for speech production. During breathing, the larynx opens like a valve to allow air to pass into the lungs. During swallowing, the vocal folds come together and, with a flap of tissue called the epiglottis, protect the airway and prevent food from entering to the lungs.
There are three parts of the larynx:
Glottis. The middle section that holds the vocal fold.
Supraglottis. The area above the vocal folds.
Subglottis. The area below the vocal folds that connects the larynx to the windpipe.
The hypopharynx (also called the gullet) is the lower part of the throat and surrounds the larynx. The pharynx (throat) is a hollow tube about five inches long that starts behind the nose (nasopharynx) and ends at the level of the larynx (laryngopharynx). The pharynx leads into the esophagus (the tube that goes to the stomach).
About cancer in the larynx or hypopharynx
Cancer can begin in any part of the larynx or hypopharynx. Cancer occurs in the larynx or hypopharynx when normal cells change and grow uncontrollably, forming a mass called a tumor. A tumor can be benign (noncancerous) or malignant (cancerous, meaning it can spread to other parts of the body).
About 95% of all cancers of the larynx and hypopharynx are categorized as squamous cell carcinomas, meaning they began in the flat, squamous cells that form the lining of these organs.
Laryngeal and hypopharyngeal cancers are two of the main types of cancer in the head and neck region, a grouping called head and neck cancer. This section covers both laryngeal cancer and hypopharyngeal cancer together since treatments are often similar; however, these are two separate types of cancer.
Looking for More of an Overview?
If you would like additional introductory information, explore these related items. Please note these links take you to other sections on Cancer.Net:
- ASCO Answers Fact Sheet: Read a one-page fact sheet (available in PDF) that offers an easy-to-print introduction to these types of cancer.
- Cancer.Net En Español: Read about laryngeal and hypopharyngeal cancer in Spanish. Infórmase sobre cáncer laríngeo e hipofaríngeo en español.
Or, choose “Next” (below, right) to continue reading this detailed section. To select a specific topic within this section, use the colored boxes located on the right side of your screen.