Discover how Dr. Tjoa can provide a treatment plan for tonsil cancer.
A rare form of oropharyngeal cancer, tonsil cancer is an irregularity that originates in oval-shaped pads collectively known as the tonsils. Alcohol and tobacco use are common risk factors associated with cancers of this nature.
However, recent research suggests a link to human papillomavirus (HPV), which affects nearly 80 million Americans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). One study has linked HPV to approximately 70 percent of newly diagnosed oral cancer cases. More common in men and older adults, tonsil cancer is often detected in later stages.
Tonsil cancer may affect any of the three different kinds of tonsils. Pharyngeal tonsils (adenoids) are located behind the ears. Palatine tonsils are found in the back of the throat. Located at the base of the tongue, lingual tonsils are the ones often considered to be “the tonsils." Squamous cell carcinoma and lymphoma are the two types of cancer that may affect tonsils.
Possible Signs of Tonsil Cancer
A feeling of something in the throat may be an early sign of tonsil cancer, as well as difficulty swallowing. Some patients may also notice mouth pain, swollen and inflamed tonsils, neck pain, a sore throat that’s not going away, or sores in the mouth or throat that aren’t healing. Symptoms associated with tonsil cancer may also include:
Lumps in the neck
Bad breath (halitosis)
How Is It Diagnosed?
A patient’s health history and symptoms are typically used as a guide to get a better idea of what may be affecting tonsils. Following a thorough examination that sometimes involves the use of an endoscope to view the tonsils and other areas of the throat, an ear, nose, and throat specialist often orders a series of tests so a diagnosis can be made. X-rays, MRI, CT, and PET scans, and blood tests are among the tests that may be done. A tissue sample from the affected area is usually collected and tested with a procedure known as a biopsy.
Treatment for tonsil cancer will depend on the stage of cancer, as well as the size and location of the abnormal growths. With stage I or II tumors that haven’t spread beyond the tonsils, surgery to remove the affected tissues could be all that’s necessary. While sometimes used as a standalone treatment for early stages of the disease, radiation therapy is often combined with chemotherapy, or performed after surgery for tonsil cancer to ensure that all affected tissues have been treated.
What If Surgery Isn’t Possible?
If surgery for tonsil cancer isn’t possible, chemotherapy may be recommended to slow tumor growth and minimize progression of the disease. Some doctors also use hyperthermia to treat patients with this type of cancer. It’s a process that involves warming the body to kill cancer cells.
An ear, nose, and throat doctor sometimes detects signs of tonsil cancer when patients are referred from their regular doctor. In some instances, it may initially be assumed that the source of the problem is either strep throat or tonsillitis, since symptoms can be similar to what’s normally experienced with tonsil cancer. If cancer is positively diagnosed, a comprehensive approach to treatment that includes follow-up evaluations may increase the odds of seeing positive results, particularly with tumors limited to the tonsils.