So you may be wondering what a Pyriform Sinus is. I know I did. It's essentially an area that is a recess of tissue that lies between your airway (trachea) and your food pipe (esophagus). Like most other Head and Neck Cancers, it is very difficult to detect early. Given that you have a lot of space in your neck that is open, tumors can grow extensivey before they present any symptoms. There's really no way to detect it early and given the fact that it's fairly rate, at least when compared to Breast, Lung, Brain, or Testicular cancer, it doesn't get a lot of attention. It also occurs mostly in the elderly, with average age in the 70s. However, I know a young woman that I met at the hospital that was 19.
My primary tumor is (was) on the right Pyriform sinus. From there is spread to other places throughout my neck, including part of my right vocal chord. The lump that I found in my neck was actually a cancerous lymph node. Cancer "Staging" is done to identify how significant the cancer is. The major stages are Stage 1 (early stage) to Stage 4 (late stage). The staging rules are different for each type of cancer but generally are based on the size of tumors, quantity of tumors, whether the cancer has spread to lymph nodes, and whether it has spread to other ograns. By the time I was diagnosed, I was stage 4a. Although there is no Stage 5, I found hope that there was a 4b and 4c, and I hadn't reached those stages yet. However, my research indicated that survival rates are essentially the same for all of the three sub-stages of stage 4, and none were good. The official 5 year survival rate was 22%. My first though was "wow...I feel bad for those other guys in the 78% pool!" Staying positive definately helped me.
The region of the neck the Pyriform Sinus is located is the HypoPharynx. Hypo (means lower) and Pharynx is the cavity that runs from your nose to your esophagus, and is broken up into 3 sections:
Oropharynx: (top part) includes tonsils, base of tongue, etc.
Nasopharynx: nasal area of the pharynx.
Hypopharynx: pyriform sinus, aryepiglottic fold, and laryngopharynx.
The above picture shows all 3 areas.
70% of all Hypopharynx cancers occur in the Pyriform sinus.
The link below references a comprehensive (and very technical) article written about Hypopharyngeal Cancer. http://www.emedicine.com/med/topic1132.htm
This is a link that describes the Trans Oral Robotic Surgery (TORS) procedure that I'll be having on October 19th, performed by Dr. Greg Weinstein. This technological advancement allows the surgeon to reach areas of the neck through the mouth that otherwise wouldn't be reachable. Until this advancement, surgeons had to literally break the patient's jab, and swing it open like a hinge to get to the site! The average operation used to take 15 hours; this reduces it to 3 hours.