Tonsil cancer typically attacks the palatine tonsils located at the back of the throat. The tonsils are essentially a filter for what we inhale and ingest and help protect us from infection.
Tobacco use and alcohol consumption have long been linked to various forms of oropharyngeal cancer, including tonsil cancer. New studies are also showing a significant connection between tonsil cancer and infection with human papillomavirus, also known as HPV.
According to the Journal of Clinical Oncology, approximately 70 percent of tonsil cancer cases can be attributed to HPV infection. This makes HPV the leading cause of oral cancer. It is estimated that HPV will be responsible for more cases of oral cancer than cervical cancer by the year 2020. Other potential risk factors for tonsil cancer include:
In the early stages, tonsil cancer is often mistaken by the patient for a viral illness, such as a sore throat. Other potential symptoms include:
The process of diagnosing tonsil cancer begins with a thorough patient history and a targeted physical exam using a variety of techniques, including inspection and palpation. This is typically followed by various imaging and diagnostic tests to confirm the diagnosis and to rule out other potential causes of your symptoms, including:
Following diagnosis, the UC Irvine tumor board will develop an individualized treatment plan based on the location, size, type, and depth of the tumor. The tumor board includes specialists in head and neck cancer, radiation therapy, medical oncology (chemotherapy specialists), radiologists and pathologists. All your imaging and pathology (biopsy slides) are reviewed as a group and a plan is established that best fits the individual patient. Treatment typically includes one or more of the following: