Tonsils serve as the front lines of the body’s immune system. Also known as “palatine tonsils,” they help the body recognize and defend itself against germs. About 3.5 percent of all oral cancers develop in the tonsils or the oropharynx—the back part of the throat—according to the National Cancer Institute’s Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results database. Tobacco use is a leading cause of tonsil cancer. Human papilloma virus (HPV) is another major cause of one form of tonsil cancer, called squamous cell carcinoma. About 9,000 people a year are diagnosed with HPV-related cancer of the mouth and throat, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Because the tonsils are part of the lymph system, some lymphomas may develop there first.
Common tonsil cancer symptoms
Many tonsil cancer patients may not notice symptoms, even after their diagnosis. Others may experience discomfort when swallowing. Other symptoms of tonsil cancer may include:
- A noticeable neck mass
- Sore or uncomfortable throat
- A patch of dry, irritated tissue
- A hoarse voice
- Weight loss
NOTE: These symptoms may be attributed to a number of conditions other than cancer. It is important to consult with a medical professional for an accurate diagnosis.
Advanced treatments for tonsil cancer
Surgery: Surgical options may be recommended to remove the tumor from the tonsil, throat or lymph nodes. Minimally invasive robotic surgery may be available, depending on the size and location of the mass. Microsurgical reconstruction may be recommended to help restore the appearance and function of the throat area after the removal of larger tumors or some bone structure.
Radiation therapy: Several radiation techniques, including intensity modulated radiotherapy (IMRT), may be recommended to target the tumor while reducing damage to surrounding healthy tissue.
Chemotherapy: A common treatment for tonsil cancer involves using radiation therapy in combination with chemotherapy.