Laryngeal and Hypopharyngeal Cancer: Symptoms and Signs

Approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 09/2022

ON THIS PAGE: You will find out more about changes and other things that can signal a problem that may need medical care. Use the menu to see other pages.

People with laryngeal or hypopharyngeal cancer may experience the following symptoms or signs. Symptoms are changes that you can feel in your body. Signs are changes in something measured, like by taking your blood pressure or doing a lab test. Together, symptoms and signs can help describe a medical problem. Sometimes, people with laryngeal or hypopharyngeal cancer do not have any of these the symptoms and signs described below. Or, the cause of a symptom or sign may be a medical condition that is not cancer.

  • Hoarseness or other voice changes that do not go away within 2 weeks, which is often an early symptom

  • An enlarged lymph node or lump in the neck

  • Airway obstruction, difficulty breathing, and noisy breathing

  • Persistent sore throat or a feeling that something is caught in the throat

  • Difficulty swallowing that does not go away

  • Ear pain

  • Chronic bad breath

  • Choking

  • Unexplained weight loss

  • Fatigue

If you are concerned about any changes you experience, please talk with a doctor and/or dentist, especially if these changes don’t go away or get worse. Your doctor will ask how long and how often you’ve been experiencing the symptom(s), in addition to other questions. This is to help figure out the cause of the problem, called a diagnosis.

Because many of these symptoms can also be caused by health conditions that are not cancer, it is always important to have regular health and dental screenings, especially for those who routinely drink alcohol or use tobacco products or have used them in the past.

If cancer is diagnosed, relieving symptoms remains an important part of cancer care and treatment. Managing symptoms may also be called "palliative care" or "supportive care." It is often started soon after diagnosis and continued throughout treatment. Be sure to talk with your health care team about the symptoms you experience, including any new symptoms or a change in symptoms. When detected early, laryngeal and hypopharyngeal cancers can often be treated successfully, while preserving the function of the larynx and/or hypopharynx.

The next section in this guide is Diagnosis. It explains what tests may be needed to learn more about the cause of the symptoms. Use the menu to choose a different section to read in this guide.