According to abbreviationfinder, HC stands for hypopharyngeal carcinoma. Hypopharyngeal carcinoma (pharyngeal cancer) is cancer in the lower pharynx, the final part. The hypopharynx is one of the three areas of the throat (pharynx). In hypopharyngeal carcinoma, the tumor usually originates in the pharyngeal mucosa. This lines this area of the body from the inside.
What is hypopharyngeal carcinoma?
In the early stages, hypopharyngeal carcinoma tends to lead to uncharacteristic symptoms. As the disease progresses, swallowing disorders and excessive salivation can occur with increasing size.
Hypopharyngeal carcinoma is a malignant cancer that belongs to the head and neck tumors and affects the lowest part of the human throat, the so-called pharynx. The hypopharynx (lowest part of the pharynx) begins where the air and food passages separate. It lies behind the entrance to the larynx and to the side of it.
Hypopharyngeal carcinoma is almost always squamous cell carcinoma. These develop from the top layer of cells, the squamous epithelium. The malignant tumors originate from the mucous membranes and the epithelia of the skin. It could be observed that mostly older men are affected by the disease.
But this tumor is also increasing in women. This is due to changes in drinking and smoking habits. In 90 percent of cases, the hypopharyngeal carcinoma is already at an advanced stage when it is first diagnosed.
The causes of hypopharyngeal carcinoma have not yet been fully elucidated. Hereditary factors, environmental influences and malnutrition could be involved in the development. The factors that come into question as triggers include excessive consumption of alcohol and nicotine, viral infections such as the Epstein-Barr virus or the human papilloma virus (HPV).
A malfunctioning immune system, frequent exposure to pollutants such as asbestos or paints containing chromium and nickel, and a genetic disposition are also possible causes of hypopharyngeal carcinoma.
Symptoms, Ailments & Signs
In the early stages, hypopharyngeal carcinoma tends to lead to uncharacteristic symptoms. As the disease progresses, swallowing disorders and excessive salivation can occur with increasing size. In addition, a sore throat, a foreign body sensation in the throat and stabbing pain when swallowing can occur.
The latter often pull up to the ear. In advanced stages, bloody sputum is also possible. Spreading to neighboring structures is often observed. If the larynx is also affected, it can lead to restricted movement of the vocal cords, hoarseness and narrowed airways.
The latter can lead to severe shortness of breath. Metastasis occurs very early, so one of the first symptoms is often enlarged lymph nodes under and behind the ear. These are usually unilateral and do not cause pain. The general symptoms of hypopharyngeal carcinoma often lead to weight loss.
Diagnosis & course of disease
Endoscopy is available to doctors to diagnose hypopharyngeal carcinoma. This allows body cavities to be examined and displayed. Biopsies are taken from different regions. The disease can usually be diagnosed by this.
Imaging methods also play a crucial role. In order to be able to assess the extent of the tumor in the neck area and larynx as well as metastases, ultrasound, CT or MRI examinations are used. The patient may have to swallow a contrast medium for this.
This improves the representation of the structures and functions. PET and bone scintigraphy help look for distant metastases. Viruses can also promote the tumor, so a blood test can also be helpful. The right contact person for hypopharyngeal carcinoma or related symptoms is an ear, nose and throat doctor.
Timely diagnosis and initiation of therapy is of great importance. If the hypopharyngeal carcinoma is small and has not spread or grown into adjacent structures, the prognosis is good. The further the growth of the tumor has progressed, the worse the prognosis.
The development of the tumor leads to various restrictions and complaints in the area of the throat and mouth. It is not uncommon for patients to suffer from swallowing disorders and increased salivation. There is also a sore throat and a foreign body sensation in the throat.
Furthermore, coughing up blood occurs and the person concerned feels sick and hoarse. The voice also changes as a result of the hypopharyngeal carcinoma due to the narrowed airways. In the worst case, hypopharyngeal carcinoma can lead to breathing difficulties and shortness of breath. This can trigger a panic attack in the patient and lead to further death.
As with other cancers, there is a loss of appetite and thus weight loss. The diagnosis of hypopharyngeal carcinoma can be carried out relatively easily, so that it can be treated early. The tumor can be surgically removed.
Complications can arise when the tumor has spread to other regions, so that the patient’s larynx is removed, for example. This distance can lead to significant limitations in the everyday life of the person concerned. If the tumor is successfully removed, life expectancy is not reduced.
When should you go to the doctor?
If hypopharyngeal carcinoma is suspected, a doctor must always be consulted. People who notice swallowing difficulties, excessive salivation and other typical signs should speak to their family doctor and arrange for a more detailed examination. If symptoms such as bloody sputum or shortness of breath occur, the disease may already be at an advanced stage. Then a doctor must be consulted immediately. At the latest when there is weight loss or a feeling of illness and does not go away on its own after a week at the latest, you must go to a doctor with the symptoms.
The cancer can cause serious complications if left untreated. Therefore, a hypopharyngeal carcinoma should be medically clarified and treated immediately. People who have had a viral infection for a long time or who have a weakened immune system are particularly susceptible to developing hypopharyngeal carcinoma. Likewise, people who regularly consume alcohol or nicotine. If you are one of these risk groups, you should seek medical advice or inform the responsible doctor as soon as possible if you experience the symptoms mentioned.
Treatment & Therapy
A smaller hypopharyngeal carcinoma can be removed with laser surgery. However, it is possible that areas of the closely adjacent larynx must also be removed. The primary goals of treatment are to eliminate the tumor and preserve speech function.
The same generally applies to the patient’s quality of life. It should therefore be made possible for the affected person to be able to drink, eat and breathe normally. In the case of more advanced tumors, however, it is often necessary to remove the entire larynx as well.
If the tumor has already grown into neighboring structures, such as the thyroid gland or esophagus, parts of these must also be removed. In many cases, however, it is then difficult to remove the tumor completely. Radiotherapy and chemotherapy are often used after the operation .
In the case of inoperability, an attempt is made to reduce the size of the hypopharyngeal carcinoma with the carbon dioxide laser. This is consequently performed when surgical intervention is not possible. In the final stages, a gastrostomy and tracheostomy are often required. The former allows artificial feeding if the patient cannot swallow due to the hypopharyngeal carcinoma.
The tracheotomy is an access to the windpipe, which serves to ensure ventilation. Hypopharyngeal carcinoma does not cause any symptoms for a long time. As a result, the disease is often only diagnosed in advanced stages. In more than half of the patients, it is only noticed when the first settlements are already recognizable as swelling of the lymph nodes in the neck.
A healthy lifestyle, which includes a balanced diet with many vitamins, is considered to prevent hypopharyngeal carcinoma. In particular, smoking and excessive alcohol consumption (especially high-proof) should be avoided. In general, smokers have a very high risk of developing throat cancer.
Alcohol also increases it. Especially in the combination, the development of the disease can often be observed. Alcohol ensures that the pharyngeal mucosa is damaged, which is then vulnerable to the carcinogenic substances that are supplied with smoking. Optimal oral hygiene is also mentioned by the doctors as sensible.
Occupational exposure to metal and wood dust, coal, tar products and asbestos cement is also considered carcinogenic. Since reflux disease or heartburn can also promote hypopharyngeal carcinoma, these symptoms should be treated accordingly, for example with acid blockers.
In most cases, the follow-up measures for hypopharyngeal carcinoma are very limited or are not available to the person concerned. The patient must consult a doctor very early on, so that further complications or a further deterioration of the symptoms can be prevented. Hypopharyngeal carcinoma cannot heal itself.
If the disease is not recognized until late, it can lead to the premature death of the person affected. Most people affected by this disease require surgical intervention. After such a procedure, the person concerned should definitely rest and take care of his body. Efforts or physical activities should be avoided in order not to unnecessarily strain the body.
Stress should also be avoided. The support and help from friends and family also has a positive effect on the course of the hypopharyngeal carcinoma and can also prevent psychological upsets or depression. In many cases, however, the disease significantly reduces the life expectancy of those affected. Complete healing is also not possible in many cases.