What is Pharyngeal Cancer?
The pharynx (throat) is the hollow tube inside the neck (~5 inches long) that connects the back of the nasal cavity to the top of the windpipe and esophagus. There are 3 main sections of the pharynx, and cancer can develop in any of these:
- Nasopharynx: The nasopharynx is the top section of pharynx behind the nose and nasal cavity. The nasopharynx lies above the soft palate, which is the soft area at the back of the roof of the mouth.
- Oropharynx: The oropharynx is the middle section of the pharynx behind the mouth. The oropharynx includes the base of the tongue (back 1/3), the soft palate at the back of the roof of the mouth, the tonsils, and the back of the throat. The oropharynx is behind the oral cavity, below the soft palate and above the epiglottis.For information about tonsil cancer, a cancer of the oropharynx, please refer to Understanding Tonsil Cancer for more details.
- Hypopharynx: The hypopharynx is the bottom section of the pharynx that lies behind the larynx. The hypopharynx starts at the top of the epiglottis and ends at the top of the esophagus.
Most pharyngeal tumors are squamous cell carcinomas (SCC) (~95%), which start in the thin, flat cells that line the inside of the pharynx.