Throat cancer types

This page was reviewed under our medical and editorial policy by

Maurie Markman, MD, President, Medicine & Science

This page was updated on June 3, 2022.

There are several types and sub-types of throat cancer. They include:

Squamous cell carcinoma develops in the thin, flat cells that line much of the throat. These cells look like fish scales when checked under a microscope. This type of throat cancer is the most common in the United States.

Adenocarcinoma begins in the glandular cells of the throat.

Sarcoma is a less common type of throat cancer that develops in the muscle fibers of the neck.

Laryngeal cancer and pharyngeal cancer are two of the most common types of throat cancer.

Pharyngeal cancer is categorized by three types:

  • Nasopharynx cancer forms in the upper part of the throat, behind the nose.
  • Oropharynx cancer forms in the middle part of the throat, behind the mouth.
  • Hypopharynx cancer forms in the bottom part of the throat, just above the larynx, or voice box.

Treatments for cancer of the pharynx often depend on where the disease develops. Cancer of the oropharynx, or the base of the tongue and the tonsils, is typically treated differently than cancer that forms in the posterior pharynx, or the back wall of the throat, for example. Treatments also differ for cancer that forms in the hypopharynx, or the area of the throat next to and behind the larynx.

Laryngeal cancer refers to cancer that forms in the larynx. Treatments for cancer of the larynx often depend on where the disease forms, whether it is above the glottis, which is the part of the larynx consisting of the vocal cords and the opening between them, below the glottis, or on the vocal cords themselves. Aside from squamous cell carcinoma and adenocarcinoma, other types of laryngeal cancer are lymphoepithelioma, spindle cell carcinoma, verrucous cancer, undifferentiated carcinoma and cancers of the lymph nodes, which are called lymphomas.

Next topic: What are the stages of throat cancer?

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