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What is Tonsil Cancer?

Tonsil carcinoma

Tonsil cancer is an abnormal growth of cells that forms in a tonsil. Your tonsils are two oval-shaped pads in the back of your mouth that are part of your body’s germ-fighting immune system.

Tonsil cancer can cause difficulty swallowing and a sensation that something is caught in your throat. Tonsil cancer is often diagnosed late in the disease, when cancer has spread to nearby areas, such as the lymph nodes in the neck.

 Tonsil cancer symptoms

Many people with tonsil cancer may not notice any symptoms even after they’re diagnosed.

The number one symptom of tonsil cancer is having one tonsil larger than the other. Another common symptom is a persistent sore throat. Symptoms depend on the size of cancer. It’s not uncommon for the first symptom to be a lump in the neck.

Other symptoms may include:

  • hoarseness or a change in your speaking voice
  • fatigue
  • unexplained weight loss
  • ear pain, especially on only one side
  • difficulty swallowing or opening your mouth
  • bleeding from your mouth

Having one or more of these symptoms doesn’t mean you have tonsil cancer. Several noncancerous

problems cause the same symptoms.

But it’s important to see a specialist if you have a tonsil infection that doesn’t get better with antibiotics or unexplained ear pain that doesn’t go away. Doctors who specialize in problems in the ear, nose, and throat are called ENTs, or otolaryngologists.

Causes Of Tonsil Cancer

HPV increases the risk of cancer of the throat, soft palate, tonsils, and back of the tongue.

Tonsil cancer forms when healthy cells in the tonsils develop changes in their DNA. A cell’s DNA contains the instructions that tell a cell what to do. The changes tell the cells to grow out of control and to continue living when healthy cells would normally die. The accumulating cells form a tumor that can grow beyond the tonsils and spread to other areas of the body.

It’s not clear what causes tonsil cancer, but doctors are finding that human papillomavirus (HPV) is increasingly playing a role. This common sexually transmitted infection is detected in most tonsil cancers in the United States. Tonsil cancer caused by HPV tends to occur at a younger age and is more likely to respond well to available treatments.

When to see a doctor

Make an appointment with your doctor or dentist if you experience any persistent signs and symptoms that worry you.

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