What is tonsil cancer?
Tonsil cancer is a type of cancer that begins in the cells of your tonsils. Your tonsils are two oval-shaped pads in the back of your mouth that are part of your body’s germ-fighting immune system.
This type of cancer most commonly occurs in the palatine tonsils, which are located on either side of the throat, although it can also occur in the pharyngeal tonsils (also called adenoids), which are behind the nasal cavity, or in the lingual tonsils, which are at the back of the tongue.
Most tonsil cancers are squamous cell carcinomas, which arise in the lining tissues of the mouth, although it is possible for lymphoma (a type of immune system cancer) to develop in the tonsils. Smoking is the most common risk factor for squamous cell carcinomas of the tonsils. Alcohol is also a risk factor; the combination of smoking and alcohol use yields an even greater risk than using either substance alone.
How common is tonsil cancer?
Men are more likely to develop tonsil cancer than women. Certain lifestyle habits increase the risk of developing cancer of the tonsil.
However, it can be managed by reducing your risk factors. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.
What are the symptoms of tonsil cancer?
You will notice that some symptoms of tonsil cancer are very similar to symptoms of strep throat. However, strep throat is most common in people ages 5-15 years while tonsil cancer most commonly affects people over the age of 50. There are a great number of signs and symptoms of this type of cancer and these below are the most common ones, include:
- Sores in the back of the mouth or throat that do not heal
- Swollen tonsils that are not equal in size (one is particularly larger than the other)
- Mouth pain that does not go away
- Difficulty and/or pain when swallowing
- Pain when eating citrus fruits
- Lumps in the neck
- Neck pain
- Sore throat that does not go away
- Blood-tinged saliva
- Bad breath
When should I see my doctor?
Early diagnosis and treatment can stop tonsil cancer from worsening and prevent another medical emergency, so talk to your doctor as soon as possible to prevent this serious condition.
If you have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consulting with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.
What causes tonsil cancer?
Here are some common causes of the tonsil cancer, include:
- Excessive alcohol consumption
- Vitamin A deficiency
- Exposure to asbestos
- Poor dental hygiene
There is also a connection between tonsil cancer and certain types of human papillomavirus infections (HPV). This is a sexually transmitted virus.
Tonsil cancer has also been linked to other types of cancers. In fact, some people diagnosed with throat cancer are diagnosed with esophageal, lung, or bladder cancer at the same time. This is typically because cancers often have the same risk factors, or because cancer that begins in one part of the body can spread throughout the body in time.
What increases my risk for tonsil cancer?
Some people are more likely to get tonsil cancer because of lifestyle choices or other circumstances. You are more likely to get tonsil cancer if you drink alcohol or smoke, are infected with the virus HPV or HIV, or are more than 50 years old or older (although tonsil cancer can occur at any age).
You are also more likely to get tonsil cancer if you are a man or have had an organ transplant. Moreover, some scientists believe that drinking alcohol too much is also considered as one of the most popular risks causing the tonsil cancer.
Diagnosis & Treatment
The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.
How is tonsil cancer diagnosed?
Doctors use different tools to help them diagnose cancer of the tonsils. If your doctor suspect that you may experience tonsil cancer, the first step of this process is to obtain an accurate health history from you. Your physician will then examine you carefully. After this, if necessary, your doctor will likely order one or more of the following tests.
- Fine needle aspiration (a small amount of tissue is taken out of the tonsils with a needle and the cells are examined under a microscope)
- Blood tests
- PET scan
Then your doctor will classify the stage of your condition. Classifying cancers into four stages allows health professionals to indicate how far the cancer has progressed in a clear and concise manner. However useful this may be for your doctor, it may be very confusing for you. This is what the different stages mean.
- Stage I: The cancer is small (less than 2 cm), is confined to one area, and has not spread to surrounding lymph nodes.
- Stage II: The cancer is between 2-4 cm but has not spread.
- Stage III: The cancer is greater than 4 cm and has spread to one lymph node that is on the same side of the neck as the tumor. The lymph node measures 3 cm or less.
- Stage IV: This is the most complicated stage with the worst prognosis.
How is tonsil cancer treated?
The amount of treatment you receive for your condition will depend on what stage of tonsil cancer you have, what type you have, and how aggressive you and your physician would like to be when it comes to treatment. In general, three types of treatments are used:
Most patients will need surgery to remove the cancerous tissue. Some individuals who have stage I or II cancer may not need any more treatment than this, although radiation may be recommended since a single remaining cancer cell could grow into another tumor.
After surgery, many patients undergo radiation to kill any remaining cancer tissue. There are several kinds of radiation and what is used will depend on your particular situation.
If you have stage III or IV tonsil cancer, you will likely need chemotherapy. A new treatment called induction chemotherapy is being used to shrink tumors.
Most doctors will recommend a minimum of surgical treatment followed by localized radiation. Some physicians also use hyperthermia (warming the body to a high temperature to kill cancer cells). Other investigational treatments are available, but your insurance company is not likely to pay for them. Investigational treatments are extremely expensive unless you are participating in a current study.
Lifestyle changes & Home remedies
What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage tonsil cancer?
You may be able to lower your risk of tonsil cancer by:
- Avoiding betel quid
- Avoiding mate
- Eating plenty of vegetables and fruits
- Quitting use of tobacco products, including cigarettes and smokeless tobacco
- Reducing your alcohol intake
If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
Review Date: March 2, 2017 | Last Modified: September 12, 2019
Tonsil cancer. http://www.cancer.org/Cancer/news/News/rise-in-rate-of-throat-cancer-linked-to-hpv . Accessed Mar 3 2017.
Tonsil cancer. http://www.cedars-sinai.edu/Patients/Health-Conditions/Tonsil-Cancer.aspx . Accessed Mar 3 2017.
Tonsil cancer. http://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/diagnosis-staging/staging/staging-fact-sheet . Accessed Mar 3 2017.