Tonsil Cancer: Information on Its Symptoms, Treatments and Side Effects

By | 31/03/2020
tonsil cancer

Before we dig up more about tonsil cancer let us first learn a little bit about the tonsil itself. The tonsils have a responsibility to fight infection and protect our body from germs. Tonsils are made of or composed of lymphoid tissue. Each of us has three types of tonsils in our bodies, i.e.

  1. Adenoids (nasopharyngeal tonsils): located behind our noses
  2. Lingual tonsils: located on the back of our tongues
  3. Palatine tonsils: located on the sides of our throats

The most common cancer of tonsil usually involves the palatine tonsils which are two glands in an oval-shaped located at the sides and back of our mouths. These two glands are made of white blood.

Types of Tonsil Cancer

One will have tonsil cancer when some malignant or cancerous cells grow in the tonsils. There a number of people whose tonsils are removed because of some health problems they have; yet, they may still be able to develop tonsil cancer. This type of cancer will grow if there are some tonsil tissue left behind after the tonsil removal procedure.

Cancer of tonsils itself is a type of head and neck cancer; in a narrower type, it is included in oral and oropharyngeal cancer. Cancer of tonsils is mostly a squamous cell carcinomas type; while lymphomas are the less common ones to occur.  

Causes and Risk Factor of Tonsil Cancer

There are a number of factors that may escalate the risk of cancer of tonsil, such as:

1.   Viruses

A patient who has HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Viruses) or HPV (Human Papilloma Virus) is likely to have a higher risk of tonsil cancer

2. Environmental Factors

People who smoke and drink alcohol are more prone to suffer from this type of cancer

3.  Age and Sex

Over the years, cancer of tonsil affects most men whose ages are more than 50 years old. However, younger people with HPV infection are prone to this type of cancer even if they do not smoke.

We may recognize that some risk factors of tonsil cancer can be avoided or lowered. You can lower the risks by doing the following:

  • Limit his alcohol intake
  • Quit or avoid any tobacco use like smoking
  • Get an HPV vaccination to protect you from having one

What Are Tonsil Cancer Symptoms?

Symptoms of this cancer may be insignificant that most people may not notice. When people start to feel the symptoms, cancer may have already spread and becomes worse. That is why it is very crucial for each person to understand the symptoms of tonsil cancer, such as follows:

  • Difficulty in swallowing, chewing or speaking
  • A sore throat that lasts for more than two weeks
  • A red or white patch on the tonsils
  • An incessant severe ear pain
  • Lumps in the throat or neck that is painless
  • A sore on the back of the mouth
  • Mouth pain
  • Has a larger tonsil at one side
  • Bad breath
  • Blood in the saliva
  • Weight loss with no particular reasons

 How to Diagnose Tonsil Cancer?

How to Diagnose Tonsil Cancer

When a person is suspected to have a cancer of tonsil, the doctor may start to examine the mouth and throat. This preliminary test will help the doctor to locate the location and the size of the unwanted cell growth. Doctors may also require further examination of the throat, neck, ears and nose to see if cancer has spread out or not.

If doctors find any abnormal growth in certain areas, a lab testing with the cells sample may be needed and they will recommend the patient to see a specialist. The following is some possible tests that may be done by the specialists:

1. Laryngoscopy

The patient will have a thin tube with a camera and light down on their throat to search for something uncommon.

2. Fine Needle Aspiration

Doctors or professional health practitioners will have to take out a sample of the tonsils using a needle to observe under a microscope

3. Lab Test

Urine and blood test may display some changes that signify any possible cancer

4. Imaging Test

This type of test may include CT-Scan, MRI Scan, Ultrasound, Panorex (orthopantomography) and PET-CT Scan. During a PET-CT scan the patient will have a sugar (radioactive glucose) injected into his vein. This way, doctors will find out about the areas contain any cancerous cells given that the malignant cells will absorb even more radioactive glucose than the healthy ones. The scanner will make a computerized image of the body with highlighted areas of cancerous cells illuminating the radioactive glucose.

5. Biopsy

A small amount of tonsil tissue may be needed to examine to make sure whether the malignant cells exist. 

Tonsil Cancer Stages

Doctors and other health professionals may find out that the four stages of cancer that indicate the progress of the cancer is helpful to them. However, this may be confusing for some people like us. Here are the different stages of tonsil cancer in a more understandable explanation:

Stage 1

At this stage, the size of tonsil cancer is not more than 2 cm. It is limited only in one area and has not spread to the adjacent areas.

Stage 2

The size of cancer at this stage is approximately 2 to 4 cm and has not yet spread.

Stage 3

At this stage, the cancer has grown into more than 4 cm big and has spread to one lymph gland of which size is 3 cm or smaller. The gland’s location is on the same side of the neck where cancer grows.

Stage 4

This stage is the worst prognosis and complicates stage. The following things may be experienced by the tonsil cancer patient at this stage:

  • Cancer has already spread to one or more parts of the body
  • Cancer has affected the lymph gland on the other side of the infected tonsil
  • The affected lymph gland’s size is more than 6 cm
  • Cancer has spread to the adjacent areas of neck and mouth or on one or more of the lymph gland

Tonsil Cancer Treatment

Tonsil Cancer Treatment

There are a number of different treatments applied to cure tonsil cancer. All the treatments will depend on certain factors such as the type and stage of cancer and how aggressive the patients and the doctor want to treat this particular cancer.

The following is the most common treatments for tonsil cancers:


This treatment is needed to remove the cancerous cells. Some people may have to lose their tonsils due to the removal along with the additional tissues around the infected tonsils. This action is done to help prevent any relapsing cancer in the future.


This kind of treatment may be recommended by the doctor to minimize the tumor size before doing the surgery. This will also help to kill any cancerous tissues left behind after the surgery. In general, this type of treatment can destroy any cancerous cells or stop the tumor from growing.


This treatment uses strong medication to slow cancer from spreading, to kill any cancerous cells or to minimize the size of the tumor so it will be easier for the doctor to remove it. This chemotherapy does kill the cancerous cells, unfortunately, it also destroys the healthy cells around them. This will give the patient a severe side effect.

Doctors may recommend a combination of radiation and chemotherapy on a later stage diagnosis but not perform any extensive operation.

There are different types of chemo for tonsil cancer you need to learn:

1.  Chemoradiation

This is the combination of radiation therapy and chemo used to treat cancer without having to remove cancer by surgery.

2.  Adjuvant Chemotherapy

A combination of chemo and radiation therapy have done after the operation to destroy any tiny cancerous cells left behind.

3. Induction or Neoadjuvant Chemotherapy

The radiation therapy combined with chemo used to minimize larger tumors before surgery. This treatment may lead to minor surgery that benefits the patient for not having some serious and severe additional effects from the surgery.

4.  Chemo without Radiation Therapy

This type of treatment is used to treat cancers with a very large size or ones that have already spread to too many areas that made it difficult for doctors to remove them by surgery.

Doctors are likely to perform chemotherapy treatment in sequences. One will have the chemo treatment followed by one break period to let the patient’s body have enough time to recover. Each sequence usually lasts for a couple of weeks.

Side Effects of Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy may be a current effective treatment for any kind of cancers including tonsil cancer; yet, it also brings some uncomfortable side effects for the patient. The following is some potential side effects caused by this type of treatment:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea and vomit
  • Diarrhea
  • Mouth sores
  • Hair loss
  • Low blood counts

You may find out that there are also other types of complementary treatments that are still unproven scientifically to think about. This usually includes some traditional medication that might have you take some homeopathic remedies or do certain treatments and movement in an effort to destroy cancer. Make sure that you notify the doctor for your best advantage in treating the tonsil cancer.

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