Signs and Symptoms of Laryngeal and Hypopharyngeal Cancers

In most cases, laryngeal and hypopharyngeal cancers are found because of the symptoms they cause.

Hoarseness or voice changes

Laryngeal cancers that form on the vocal cords (glottis) often cause hoarseness or a change in the voice. This might lead to them being found at a very early stage. If you have voice changes (like hoarseness) that do not improve within 2 weeks see your health care provider right away. Pain and trouble breathing or swallowing might be symptoms of more advanced laryngeal cancer. 

For cancers that don’t start on the vocal cords, hoarseness occurs only after these cancers reach a later stage or have spread to the vocal cords. These cancers are sometimes not found until they have spread to the lymph nodes and you notice a growing mass in your neck.

Other signs and symptoms

Cancers that start in the area of the larynx above the vocal cords (supraglottis), the area below the vocal cords (subglottis), or the hypopharynx do not usually cause voice changes, and are therefore more often found at later stages.

Signs and symptoms of these cancers may include:

  • A sore throat that does not go away
  • Pain when swallowing
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Ear pain
  • Trouble breathing
  • Weight loss
  • A lump or mass in the neck (because the cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes)

Many of these symptoms are more likely to be caused by conditions other than laryngeal or hypopharyngeal cancer. Still, if you have any of these symptoms, it is very important to have them checked by a doctor so that the cause can be found and treated, if needed.

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.

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Last Revised: January 21, 2021

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