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Tonsil Cancer

Tonsil Cancer

Tonsil Cancer is a form of oropharyngeal cancer affecting the tonsils in the back of the throat, known as the palatine tonsils. The tonsils help protect the body from infection by filtering what we ingest and inhale. Tonsil cancer has recently come under the microscope as the link between it and HPV infection continues to grow. Alcohol and tobacco use were historically thought to be the main culprits of oral cancers, however recent studies have shed light on the link between HPV and several forms of oral cancer – mainly tonsil cancer.

Risk Factors for Tonsil Cancer:

A study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology found that more than 70% of new cases of oral cancers were linked to HPV, putting it ahead of tobacco use as the leading cause of such cancers. According to the study, HPV will likely cause more cases of oral cancers than cervical cancer by 2020 if the current trend continues. Even more than other forms of oral cancer, where tobacco use and alcohol consumption are the likely culprits, HPV has shown to be highly indicated in tonsil cancer.

Along with being male, alcohol and tobacco use are still major risk factors for the development of tonsil cancer. Smoking and drinking alcohol are still considered to be the traditional risk factors for all types of oral cancer, but recent studies, like the one published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology referenced aboved, have found that there are two different ways that oropharyngeal cancer can develop: either through smoking and alcohol use or HPV infection.

  • HPV
  • Tobacco Use
  • Alcohol Consumption
  • Being Male

Symptoms of Tonsil Cancer:

Symptoms of throat cancer, including tonsil cancer, are often mistaken as a viral illness (common cold) or strep throat. The most common symptoms are a sore throat that doesn’t resolve, difficulty swallowing, or feeling a lump in your throat or neck. Other potential symptoms of tonsil cancer include:

  • Sores in the mouth or throat
  • Swollen and inflamed tonsils
  • Mouth pain that does not go away
  • Ear ache
  • Neck pain
  • Bloody saliva

Diagnosis of Tonsil Cancer:

Here at UC-Irvine, our team of experienced, board-certified head and neck specialists diagnose disorders of the head and neck through a patient oriented approach that leads to optimal medical outcome and the highest patient satisfaction. The diagnosis process begins with a thorough and accurate medical history obtained through discussion and interaction between patient and doctor. This is followed by a targeted physical examination which will include inspection, palpation, and other techniques deemed necessary in your specific case.

After the medical history and physical examination results have been reviewed, additional diagnostic and imaging tests may be ordered to confirm, or rule out, a specific diagnosis. These tests may include:

  • Biopsy
  • Endoscopy
  • Blood Tests
  • X-Ray
  • CT-Scan
  • PET-Scan
  • MRI

Treatment of Tonsil Cancer:

UC-Irvine’s renowned Head and Neck Cancer department offers comprehensive treatment options for all stages and types of oral cancer, including tonsil cancer. An individualized treatment plan is formed following the formation of a diagnosis. We are here for you from the moment you walk in our state of the art facility, to the moment you have fully recovered. The type of treatment will depend on the size, type, location and depth of the tumor.

Radiation Therapy-

Although radiation therapy can be used for early stage tonsil cancer, it is most commonly used in conjunction with chemotherapy and/or surgery. Radiation therapy uses high energy rays and beams to kill the cancer causing cells. Here at UC-Irvine we offer the most advanced forms of radiation therapy including intensity-modulated radiation therapy(IMRT), a highly specific and accurate form of radiation therapy that targets cancer cells and limits the exposure of radiation to the surrounding normal tissue.


Chemotherapy is often combined with radiation and/or surgery in the treatment of tonsil cancer. Chemotherapy is administered orally or intravenously and disrupts the growth of cancer cells. It can also be used for palliative therapy to provide relief from symptoms and slow the growth of the tumor in patients where surgery is not possible.


Surgery is often used to treat tonsil cancer. Although it can be part of the treatment plan for all stages of tonsil cancer, it is commonly used as solo treatment for early-stage, small tumors that have NOT spread beyond the tonsil. As mentioned above, radiation therapy is often used in conjunction with surgery to destroy cancer cells. Advanced tumors may require a combination of surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy.

Visit UC-Irvine’s Head and Neck Department in Orange County for comprehensive screening, diagnosis and treatment of tonsil cancer and other forms of oral cancer.