Risk factors for hypopharyngeal cancer

A risk factor is something that increases the risk of developing cancer. It could be a behaviour, substance or condition. Most cancers are the result of many risk factors. Smoking tobacco is the most important risk factor for hypopharyngeal cancer. The risk is even higher if you also drink alcohol.

Hypopharyngeal cancer is more common in men than women. Men may have higher rates of this cancer because they are more likely than women to use tobacco and alcohol in heavy amounts. Hypopharyngeal cancer is not usually diagnosed before the age of 40. Most people diagnosed with this cancer are between 55 and 70 years of age.

Risk factors are generally listed in order from most to least important. But in most cases, it is impossible to rank them with absolute certainty.

Risk factors

Smoking tobacco

Drinking alcohol

Combined smoking and alcohol use

There is convincing evidence that the following factors increase your risk for hypopharyngeal cancer.

Smoking tobacco

Smoking tobacco is the main risk factor for developing hypopharyngeal cancer. All forms of tobacco, including cigarettes, cigars and pipes, increase your risk. The risk increases with the amount and length of time you smoke.

Continuing to smoke after you’ve been treated for hypopharyngeal cancer increases your chances of developing another cancer, or second cancer, in your head or neck.


Drinking alcohol increases your risk of developing hypopharyngeal cancer. The less alcohol you drink, the lower your cancer risk.

Find out more about how to limit alcohol.

Combined smoking and alcohol use

Smoking tobacco and drinking alcohol together increases your risk of developing hypopharyngeal cancer more than smoking or drinking alcohol alone.

Possible risk factors

The following factors have been linked with hypopharyngeal cancer, but there is not enough evidence to show for sure that they are risk factors. More research is needed to clarify the role of these factors for hypopharyngeal cancer.

  • human papillomavirus (HPV)
  • second-hand smoke
  • smokeless tobacco
  • family history
  • diet low in vegetables and fruit
  • coming into contact with formaldehyde, coal dust and cement dust
  • Plummer-Vinson syndrome
  • certain genetic conditions, such as Fanconi anemia and congenital dyskeratosis
  • areca nut and betel quid

Questions to ask your healthcare team

To make the decisions that are right for you, ask your healthcare team questions about risks.

Expert review and references

  • Hamoir M, Machiels JP, Schmitz S, Gregoire V . Multidisciplinary management of hypopharyngeal carcinoma. Bernier J (ed.). Head and Neck Cancer: Multimodality Management. Springer; 2016: 28: 511-537.
  • International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). Volume 100C: Arsenic, metals, fibres and dusts: a review of human carcinogens. 2012: http://monographs.iarc.fr/ENG/Monographs/vol100C/mono100C.pdf.
  • International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). Volume 100E: Personal Habits and Indoor Combustions. 2012: http://monographs.iarc.fr/ENG/Monographs/vol100E/mono100E.pdf.
  • Kruser TJ, Pagedar NA, Hoffman HT, Harari PM . Cancers of the hypopharynx and cervical esophagus: general principles and management. Harrison LB, Sessions RB, Kies MS (eds.). Head and Neck Cancer: A Multidisciplinary Approach. 4th ed. Philadelphia: Wolters Kluwer/Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2014: 19: 482 - 509.
  • Mayne, S. T., Morse, D.E. & Winn, D.M . Cancers of the oral cavity and pharynx. Schottenfeld, D. & Fraumeni, J. F. Jr. (Eds.). Cancer Epidemiology and Prevention. 3rd ed. New York: Oxford University Press; 2006: 35:674-693.
  • Mendenhall WM, Werning JW, Pfister DG . Cancer of the head and neck. DeVita VT Jr, Lawrence TS, & Rosenberg SA. Cancer: Principles and Practice of Oncology. 10th ed. Philadelphia: Wolters Kluwer Health/Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2015: 38: 422-473.
  • National Toxicology Program . 14th Report on Carcinogens . Department of Health and Human Services ; 2016 .

Reducing your risk for hypopharyngeal cancer

Ways of reducing your risk for hypopharyngeal cancer include not smoking tobacco and limiting alcohol intake. Learn how to lower your risk of developing hypopharyngeal cancer.

Medical disclaimer

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