Laryngeal and Hypopharyngeal Cancer: Risk Factors and Prevention

Approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 04/2014

ON THIS PAGE: You will find out more about the factors that increase the chance of developing these types of cancer. To see other pages, use the menu on the side of your screen.

A risk factor is anything that increases a person’s chance of developing cancer. Although risk factors often influence the development of cancer, most do not directly cause cancer. Some people with several risk factors never develop cancer, while others with no known risk factors do. However, knowing your risk factors and talking about them with your doctor may help you make more informed lifestyle and health care choices.

These two factors greatly increase the risk of developing laryngeal or hypopharyngeal cancer:

Tobacco. Use of tobacco, including cigarettes, cigars, pipes, chewing tobacco, and snuff, is the single largest risk factor for head and neck cancer. Eighty-five percent (85%) of head and neck cancer is linked to tobacco use. Secondhand smoke may also increase a person’s risk.

Alcohol. Frequent and heavy consumption of alcohol increases the risk of both laryngeal and hypopharyngeal cancer. Using tobacco and alcohol together increases this risk even more.

Other factors that can raise a person’s risk of developing laryngeal or hypopharyngeal cancer include:

Gender. Men are four to five times more likely than women to develop laryngeal and hypopharyngeal cancer.

Age. People over 55 are at higher risk, although younger people may also develop these types of cancer.

Race. Black and white people are more likely to develop laryngeal and hypopharyngeal cancer than Asian Americans and Hispanic Americans.

Occupational inhalants. Exposure to asbestos, wood dust, paint fumes, and certain chemicals may increase a person’s risk of developing laryngeal or hypopharyngeal cancer.

Poor nutrition. A diet low in vitamins A and E can raise a person’s risk of laryngeal and hypopharyngeal cancer. Foods that are rich in these vitamins may help prevent the disease.

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Chronic reflux of stomach acid into the larynx and pharynx may be associated with laryngeal and hypopharyngeal cancer; however, no specific causal relationship has been shown. This may or may not be associated with the symptoms of heartburn.

Plummer-Vinson syndrome. This rare condition involves iron deficiency and causes difficulty swallowing. The presence of this disease increases the risk of hypopharyngeal cancer.

Prevention and early detection

Researchers continue to look into what factors cause laryngeal and hypopharyngeal cancer and what people can do to lower their personal risk. There is no proven way to completely prevent these diseases, but there may be steps you can take to lower your cancer risk.

Stopping the use of tobacco products is the most important thing a person can do, even for people who have been smoking for many years. People who use alcohol and tobacco should receive a general screening examination at least once a year even if they are not experiencing any symptoms. This is a simple and quick procedure in which the doctor looks in the nose, mouth, and throat for abnormalities and feels for lumps in the neck. If anything unusual is found, the doctor will recommend a more extensive examination.

Talk with your doctor if you have concerns about your personal risk of developing laryngeal or hypopharyngeal cancer.

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