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Tonsil Cancer

Tonsil cancer is considered an oropharyngeal cancer, and it’s the most common oropharyngeal cancer. The tonsils sit toward the back of the throat, one on either side. They consist of lymphoid tissue, which contains lymphocytes, the cells that fight off disease. Tonsil cancer begins when cancerous cells develop in the tonsils. It can occur in people who have had their tonsils removed, as some tonsil tissue often remains after surgery.

Most tonsil cancers are squamous cell carcinomas, but some are lymphomas.

Tonsil Cancer Symptoms 

Like many head and neck cancers, symptoms of tonsil cancer include:

  • A sore in the back of the mouth that will not heal
  • A tonsil that is larger on one side
  • Blood in the saliva
  • Mouth or severe ear pain
  • Difficulty chewing, swallowing or speaking
  • Persistent sore throat
  • Lump or pain in the neck
  • Pain when swallowing
  • Bad breath

Tonsil Cancer Risk Factors

A risk factor is anything that increases your chance of getting a disease such as cancer. Different cancers have different risk factors. Some risk factors, like smoking and tobacco use, can be changed. Others, like your age or family history, can’t be changed.

But having a risk factor, or even several risk factors, does not mean that you will get the disease. And some people who get the disease may have few or no known risk factors. For tonsil cancer, risk factors include:

  • Tobacco use, including smokeless tobacco
  • Alcohol use
  • People with certain infections or decreased immunity, such as:
    • Exposure to the human papilloma virus (HPV)
    • Organ transplant recipients
    • People with human immunodeficiency virus disease

Tonsil Cancer Treatment

If you've been diagnosed with tonsil cancer, your cancer care team will discuss your treatment options with you to help make the decision that best fits your needs. A variety of options are available.

If caught early, early-stage tonsil cancer is often treated with radiation therapy. Advanced cancer cases usually require a combination of surgery, radiation and chemotherapy.

Surgery is used if chemotherapy and radiation do not destroy the tumor. If the lymph nodes in the neck are affected, a neck dissection may be needed to remove the nodes.

Radiation therapy frequently follows surgery. Chemotherapy may be used to help relieve symptoms and slow the tumor growth if surgery is not possible.

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Our physicians specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of Head and Neck Cancers.

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