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 alcohol

Drinking alcohol increases your risk of developing hypopharyngeal cancer. Drinking alcohol together with smoking tobacco increases the risk for hypopharyngeal and other head and neck cancers more than either one alone. To reduce your cancer risk, it's best not to drink alcohol. Canada's Guidance on Alcohol and Health outlines the health risks of alcohol and can help you make an informed decision on whether you drink and how much.

If you choose to drink alcohol, keep your cancer risk as low as possible by having no more than 2 standard drinks a week. The less alcohol you drink, the lower your cancer risk.

Find out more about how to limit alcohol.

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

  • American Cancer Society. Laryngeal and Hypopharyngeal Cancers. 2014:
  • Chiesa F, Ostuni A, Grigolato R, Calabrese L, Anasarin M . Head and neck cancer prevention. Bernier J (ed.). Head and Neck Cancer: Multimodality Management. Springer; 2016: 2: 59-76.
  • International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). Volume 100E: Personal Habits and Indoor Combustions. 2012:
  • National Cancer Institute . Hypopharyngeal Cancer Treatment (PDQ®) Health Professional Version . 2016 :

Medical disclaimer

The information that the Canadian Cancer Society provides does not replace your relationship with your doctor. The information is for your general use, so be sure to talk to a qualified healthcare professional before making medical decisions or if you have questions about your health.

We do our best to make sure that the information we provide is accurate and reliable but cannot guarantee that it is error-free or complete.

The Canadian Cancer Society is not responsible for the quality of the information or services provided by other organizations and mentioned on, nor do we endorse any service, product, treatment or therapy.

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