Tonsil Cancer can be defined as a type of carcinoma where the cancer cells usually metastasize in the tonsils, a pair of oval-shaped pads located in the back of your mouth in an area known as the oropharynx. The tonsils together form a part of the body’s immune system and actively helps in combatting germs and other infections. Tonsil cancer is chiefly categorized under head and neck cancer, oropharynx cancer and throat cancer. Since the symptoms arise quite late, the cancer gradually spreads to nearby tissues like tongue and lymph nodes and takes a more severe form when it finally gets diagnosed.

Also Read: Throat Cancer: Causes, Symptoms And Treatment

Tonsil Cancer Symptoms


Although the exact cause of tonsil caner is unknown, yet several studies and researches conclude that this form of cancer chiefly happens due to changes or mutation in the genetic material of the thin tonsil cells within the oral cavity that triggers the healthy cells to abnormally start increasing in size and number leading to an accumulation of abnormal growth of cells that slowly forms a tumour. This tumour often looks like a ulcer or sore that slowly grows bigger with time.

Also Read: Oesophageal Cancer: Causes, Symptoms And Treatment

Risk Factors

Certain causative factors that increase the risk of tonsil cancer include:

  • Taking tobacco in various forms
  • Excessive consumption of alcohol
  • Infection due to HPV (i.e., Human papillomavirus) strain
  • Family history of oral cancer or other types of cancer
  • Genetic abnormality
  • Weakened immune system due to HIV or AIDS


Just like other types of oral cancer, the initial signs and symptoms are hardly recognizable. These common signs and symptoms that gradually develop later include:

  • Ulcer or a sore on the tonsil that won’t heal
  • Difficulty and pain in swallowing, chewing or speaking
  • White or red patches on the tonsil
  • Presence of blood in the saliva
  • Sore at the back of the throat that won’t go away easily
  • Severe earache
  • Difficulty in moving the tongue or jaw
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Difficulty in consuming foods and drinks with abundance of citric acid like lemon or orange juice

Diagnosis And Treatment

On noticing any of the above-mentioned signs or symptoms, do get checked by a doctor right away. The doctor will usually conduct a thorough physical screening of the mouth and throat to look for abnormal lumps or sores on the tonsils, acknowledges the patient’s past medical history and conducts some diagnostics including:

  • Imaging techniques like Ct-scan, MRI-scan or PET-scan
  • Neck ultrasound and Chest X-ray
  • Biopsy

Stages Of Tonsil Cancer:

Before the treatment, the doctor usually categorises the cancer into a particular stage to offer proper treatment.

Stage I: The tumour is 2cm or smaller and has not spread to the lymph nodes.

Stage II: The size of the tumour or lump is 2-4 cm but has still not spread to the lymph nodes.

Stage III: Size of the tumour becomes more than 4cm but has spread to only one lymph node but not to other parts of the body.

Stage IV: An advanced stage when the tumours become quite large and the cancer cells have metastasized on to the surrounding tissues and other parts of the body.


Just like any other form of carcinoma, tonsil cancer is usually treated depending upon the type, location, staging of the cancer and the condition of the patient. It usually involves:

  • Surgery (including tracheostomy)
  • Speech pathology (this involves strengthening and stretching exercises to enable the patient to keep the ability of swallowing slowly during the on-going treatment)
  • Dental work
  • Radiation therapy (with or without chemotherapy)
  • Targeted therapy including molecular targeting medications
  • Microsurgical reconstructive surgery (to restore the face, jaw and part of the mouth to help one eat, swallow and speak)

Preventive Measures

Although one cannot prevent cancer from happening, still by following some preventive measure you can very well reduce the risk of tonsil cancer. This includes:

  • Quit smoking and using other forms of tobacco
  • Limit consuming of alcohol
  • Protect against HPV by taking proper vaccination