Can Laryngeal and Hypopharyngeal Cancers Be Prevented?

Not all laryngeal and hypopharyngeal cancers can be prevented, but the risk of developing these cancers can be greatly reduced by avoiding certain risk factors such as smoking and alcohol use.

Tobacco use is the most important cause of these cancers. Avoiding exposure to tobacco (by not smoking and avoiding secondhand smoke) lowers the risk of these cancers. Heavy alcohol use is a risk factor on its own. It also greatly increases the cancer-causing effect of tobacco smoke, so it's especially important to avoid the combination of drinking and smoking.

For people who work with chemicals linked to these cancers, having plenty of workplace ventilation and using industrial respirators are important protective measures.

Poor nutrition and vitamin deficiencies have been linked to laryngeal and hypopharyngeal cancers. Eating a balanced, healthy diet may help lower your risk of these cancers (and many others). The American Cancer Society recommends eating a healthy diet, with an emphasis on plant foods. This includes eating at least 2½ cups of vegetables and fruits every day. Choosing whole-grain breads, pastas, and cereals instead of refined grains, and eating fish, poultry, or beans instead of processed meat and red meat may also help lower your risk of cancer. In general, eating a healthy diet is much better than adding vitamin supplements to an otherwise unhealthy diet. See the American Cancer Society Guidelines on Nutrition and Physical Activity for Cancer Prevention for our full guidelines.

Doctors have been looking at whether certain drugs or vitamins might help prevent these cancers, especially in people who are at high risk. So far, none have been successful enough to be recommended.

Avoid HPV infection

The risk of human papillomavirus (HPV) infection of the throat is increased in those who have oral sex and multiple sex partners. Smokers are more likely to get HPV infections, probably because the smoke damages their immune system or the cells that line the throat. These infections are common and rarely cause symptoms. While HPV infection is linked to some cases of cancer of the larynx or hypopharynx, most people with HPV infections of the throat do not go on to develop this cancer. And most cancers of the larynx and hypopharynx are not related to HPV infection.

Vaccines that reduce the risk of infection with certain types of HPV are available. At first, these vaccines were meant to lower the risk of cervical cancer, but they've been shown to lower the risk of other cancers linked to HPV as well, such as cancers of the anus, vulva, vagina, and mouth and throat cancers.

Since these vaccines are only effective if given before someone is infected with HPV, they are given at an early age. Learn more in HPV Vaccines.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team

Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Last Medical Review: November 27, 2017 Last Revised: November 27, 2017

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