Tonsil Cancer: Symptoms, Diagnosis And Treatment


Tonsil cancer is form of oropharyngeal cancer or oral cancer in general terms. There are two types of cancer that affects the tonsil to the most are:

  1. Squamous Cell Carcinoma
  2. Lymphoma Cell

The article will cover:

  • What is tonsil and tonsil cancer?
  • Reason behind tonsil cancer
  • Symptoms of tonsil cancer
  • Diagnosis and staging
  • Treatment for tonsil cancer

What Are Tonsils?

It is quite common for people to ask “What are Tonsils?” and which is quite obvious because people can neither see nor relate to the functionality of tonsil in a human body.

There are three pairs of tonsils in the throat?

  • Pharyngeal Tonsils, also known as Adenoid, which resides right behind your nose.
  • Two Palatine Tonsils (generally what most people are found referring to when they hear the word ‘tonsils’), these are said to be located on both sides of the back of the throat.
  • Lastly, Lingual Tonsils, which are located at the back of the tongue.

These specialised organs are part of the lymphatic system.

Yes, It is our first defence against infections!

Tonsils are the first protective barriers of our body, that protects us from the foreign particles that we ingest or inhale through the mouth or nose, respectively.

The moment, bacteria or viruses are trapped in the tonsils, they are transported to the lymphatic nodes where the fighter cells (immune cells) fight against them.

However, some individuals have enlarged tonsils, and they may see following listed issues:

  • The ability to hear goes down
  • Chronic infections related to ear
  • Frequent tonsillitis or sinus related infections
  • Frequent nose bleeding
  • Abnormal speech delivery or difficulty in swallowing food.
  • Obstructive sleep apnea

You can try these remedies in case you have enlarged or swollen tonsil.

Anyways coming back to the topic we decided to talk about!

What Is Tonsil Cancer

Palatine tonsils are more prone to cancer compares to other two.

Scary Isn’t it?

In most cases, tonsil cancers are squamous cell carcinomas(SCC), which occurs in the lining tissues of the mouth. SCC often occurs in the lymphoma cells (immune system cancer) of the tonsils too (in rare conditions).

Reason Behind Tonsil Cancer

Some individuals are more likely to get tonsil cancer because of the lifestyle choices they make.

General Causes of Tonsil Cancers:

You are more likely to get tonsil cancer if you are addicted to smoke or alcohol, or you are infected with viruses like HPV or HIV. Remember, tonsil cancer can occur at any age, whether you are at the age of sweet 16 or 50.

Here, men are more prone to tonsil cancer and also any person who had an organ transplant, you are at likely to be at the high risks.

Symptoms Of Tonsil Cancer

You will also notice that some basic symptoms of tonsil cancer are quite similar to the symptom of strep throat (Read it to know much about strep throat?).

However, strep throat is most commonly found within the age of 5 to 15, whereas tonsil cancer also affects people over the age of 50 (Remember, age is just a number).

Signs of Tonsil Cancer:

  • Your sore throat does not heal irrespective of continuous medication and precautions.
  • Remember, swollen tonsil are never equal in size (one is particularly larger than the other)
  • Throat pain that never goes away
  • Blood-tinged saliva
  • Continuous earaches(Ear Infections)
  • Difficulty while swallowing food.
  • Pain while eating citrus fruits, like oranges, lemon etc
  • You can feel a lump in the neck
  • Continuous neck pain
  • A sore throat that does not go away
  • Poor/ Bad breath all the time
  • Hoarse voice
  • A patch or dry and irritated tissue

Please note: The above mentioned symptoms may attribute to various conditions other than cancer. Therefore, it is important to consult a cancer specialist for diagnosis.

Hey! Don’t be a lazy head, this is quite an Important part.

Diagnosis and Stages

The first step of this process is to obtain your medical history. Then your physician will examine you further and will ask you to go for the following tests:

  1. A Fine needle aspiration (here, a small amount of tissue is scratched out of the tonsils using a needle and the cells are then examined using a microscope and other instruments).
  2. Some blood tests
  3. X-rays and MRI’s
  4. Not to forget the PET scan

Stages of Tonsil Cancer

Talking about the stages, Cancer is classified into 4 stages, which indicates the progress of cancer in a clear and a concise manner.

This is what the different stages mean:

  • Cancer of Stage 1:  Here, the cancer is quite small (let’s say, less than 2 cm), is confined to a single area, and has not spread to its surrounding lymph nodes.
  • Stage 2 Cancer: In this stage, cancer grows a bit (about 2-4 cm) but has not spread to the surroundings yet.
  • Stage 3: It’s an Alarm! cancer becomes bigger(4 cm in size) and it spread to one of the lymphatic nodes on the same side of the neck.
  • And Stage 4:  This is the most complicated stage with the worst prognosis.

At stage 4 of tonsil cancer, any of the following things might be true:

    1. Cancer has spread to the surrounding areas of the throat or mouth.
    2. It has spread to one lymphatic node that might measure over 6 cm.
    3. It has spread to one lymph node on the opposite side of the neck.
    4. Cancer has spread to other surroundings or parts of the body.

A little more to go!

Treatment Of Tonsil Cancer

Tonsil cancer treatment procedure is subject to the severity or current stage of the disease.

In general, three types of treatment suggested:

Surgical Removal: This process involves the removal of the cancerous tumour followed by Radiation therapy to eradicate last sign of cancer.

Radiation Therapy: Patients are suggested to undergo radiation after the surgery. This process is used to kill the remaining cancerous tissues. Doctors suggest a different intensity of radiation depending on types and stages of cancer.

‘Chemo’ or Chemotherapy: This process is recommended for people who are at stage 3 or 4 of cancer.


Remember, many doctors will recommend a minimum of surgical treatment followed by the radiation. They may also recommend you to go for Hyperthermia( this process undergoes like, they warm your body to a high temperature in order to kill the cancerous cell).

You may also find a number of holistic and scientifically unproven treatments, which are offered all around the world, but these treatments may cost you a lot of your hard earned greens.

“Cancer is a word, not a sentence.” – John Diamon

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