About the disease
Tonsil cancer is an oral cancer, which originates in the tonsils. The tonsils are located behind the tongue and nose and are practically collections of the lymphoid tissue. There are three main types of tonsils:
- Pharyngeal (also known as adenomas, located behind the nose)
- Palatine (located behind the throat)
- Lingual (located at the base of the tongue)
Tonsil cancer is more common in men. It can be caused by a polluted environment, smoking, excessive alcohol consumption and HIV/HPV infections.
There are four stages of tonsil cancer. During the first stage, the cancerous tumor is less than 2 cm in size; during the second stage it is 2-4 cm wide, and by the third stage it will have grown to more than 4 cm and will start to affect the neck lymph nodes. The fourth stage is the most complicated one: by this time it will have spread to more than one lymph node and to other organs of the body.
According to headandneckcancerguide.org, the 5-year survival rate for first stage tonsil cancer is 56%, for second stage - 58%, for third stage - 55% and for fourth stage - 43%.
- Pain in the throat and mouth
- Pain in the ears
- Difficulty swallowing
- Lump in the neck
- Swollen tonsils
- Fine needle aspiration is used to take a small amount of tissue of the tonsils for analysis under the microscope. It can determine whether the tonsils’ cells are malignant or not.
- A PET scan, usually used for diagnosing lung cancer, can also create a precise image of the tonsils and show them on a deeper anatomical level.
- A blood test can establish whether there are changes in the red and white blood cells.
- An x-ray can also be used to establish whether lymph nodes have been affected.
- Chemotherapy helps shrink the cancer and is usually administered before surgery, to increase the chances of full tumor resection.
- Radiotherapy can also be administered before surgery and it is effective in the treatment of small tonsil cancers.
- A tonsillectomy is the removal of the tonsils. If the cancer is large, the surgeon may need to remove the affected part of the throat (the soft palate at the base of the tongue is removed). This can be rebuilt at a later date, using tissue from another part of the patient’s body.
- A tonsillectomy and resection of the cervical lymph nodes is required in more advanced stages of this cancer, if it has spread to the lymph nodes. In this case the surgeon removes not only the tonsils, but also the affected lymph nodes.
Overall, tonsil cancer can be treated and has a good recovery prognosis. The most important thing for you to do is to get a timely diagnosis and to lead a healthy lifestyle after surgery.