Reducing your risk for hypopharyngeal cancer

You may lower your risk of developing hypopharyngeal cancer by doing the following.

Be a non-smoker, and avoid second-hand smoke and smokeless tobacco

Avoiding tobacco in any form is an effective way to prevent hypopharyngeal cancer. This includes cigarettes, cigars, pipes, chewing tobacco and betel quid with tobacco.

Don’t start using tobacco in any form. If you currently use tobacco, get help to quit. Quitting lowers your risk for hypopharyngeal cancer. Former tobacco users have a lower risk than current users. The risk of cancer decreases with the number of years since you quit.

Limit the amount of alcohol you drink

Drinking alcohol can increase your risk of developing hypopharyngeal cancer. If you choose to drink alcohol, keep it to less than 1 drink per day for women and less than 2 drinks per day for men. The less you drink, the more you lower your risk.

Drinking alcohol together with smoking tobacco increases the risk for hypopharyngeal and other head and neck cancers more than either one alone.

Get vaccinated against human papillomavirus (HPV)

HPV can infect the hypopharynx, especially if you have oral sex and multiple sexual partners. The 3 HPV vaccines available in Canada are Gardasil, Cervarix and Gardasil 9. These vaccines help protect against infection with HPV-16 and HPV-18, the 2 types of HPV linked with different types of cancer, including hypopharyngeal cancer. Gardasil 9 also protects against 5 other types of HPV that can cause cancer.

These vaccines help lower the risk of HPV-related cancers, like cervical cancer. Researchers are studying them to find out if they also help lower the risk for hypopharyngeal cancer.

Get vaccinated or have your children vaccinated through school-based programs where available. If you are not eligible for a free vaccination, talk to your doctor about which vaccine is right for you and when you should have it.

Avoid getting HPV

The only sure way to prevent an HPV infection is to completely avoid any genital contact with another person. If you are young, delay having sex. If you are sexually active, you can lower your risk by:

  • having as few sexual partners as possible
  • being in a monogamous relationship with someone who hasn’t had a lot of sexual partners
  • using a condom

Using a condom can lower the risk of an HPV infection if the condom is put on before skin-to-skin sexual contact. But areas not covered by a condom still allow some skin-to-skin contact during sexual activity. So using condoms will lower the risk of an HPV infection but not eliminate it.

Eat vegetables and fruit

Some studies show that eating a diet high in vegetables and fruit may offer some protection against hypopharyngeal cancer. Vegetables and fruit play a key role in a healthy diet. Eat a variety of vegetables and fruit every day.

Follow safety guidelines at work

Coming into contact with coal dust, cement dust or formaldehyde at work is linked to a higher risk of hypopharyngeal cancer. Follow all work safety instructions to limit breathing in coal dust, cement dust and formaldehyde.

Find out if you’re at high risk for hypopharyngeal cancer

Some people can have a higher than average risk for hypopharyngeal cancer. Talk to your doctor about your risk. If you are at higher than average risk, you may need to visit your doctor more often to check for hypopharyngeal cancer. Your doctor will recommend what tests you should have and how often you should have them.

More information about preventing cancer

Learn what you can do to prevent cancer.

Expert review and references