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Cancer that forms in tissues of the oral cavity (the mouth) or the oropharynx (the part of the throat at the back of the mouth).
The oropharynx is the middle part of the pharynx (throat) behind the mouth, and includes the back one-third of the tongue, the soft palate, the side and back walls of the throat, and the tonsils. The pharynx is a hollow tube about 5 inches long that starts behind the nose and ends at the top of the trachea (windpipe) and esophagus (the tube that goes from the throat to the stomach). Air and food pass through the pharynx on the way to the trachea or the esophagus.
Anatomy of the pharynx (throat). The three parts of the pharynx are the nasopharynx, oropharynx, and hypopharynx.
Most oropharyngeal cancers are squamous cell carcinomas. Squamous cells are the thin, flat cells that line the inside of the oropharynx.
The anterior tonsillar pillar and tonsil are the most common location for a primary tumor of the oropharynx. Lesions involving the anterior tonsillar pillar may appear as areas of dysplasia, inflammation, or a superficial spreading lesion. These cancers can spread across a broad region, including the lateral soft palate, retromolar trigone and buccal mucosa, and tonsillar fossa.The lymphatic drainage is primarily to level II nodes.
Tumors of the posterior tonsillar
pillar can extend inferiorly to involve the pharyngoepiglottic fold and
the posterior aspect of the thyroid cartilage. These lesions more
frequently involve level V nodes.
Lesions of the tonsillar fossa may be either exophytic or ulcerative and have a pattern of extension similar to those of the anterior tonsillar pillar. These tumors present as advanced-stage disease more often than do cancers of the tonsillar pillar. Approximately 75% of patients will present with stage III or stage IV disease. The lymphatic drainage is primarily to level V nodes. Tumors of the posterior tonsillar pillar can extend inferiorly to involve the pharyngoepiglottic fold and the posterior aspect of the thyroid cartilage. These lesions more frequently involve level V nodes.
Signs and symptoms of tonsillar lesions may include the following:
Clinically, cancers of the base of the tongue are insidious. These cancers can grow in either an infiltrative or exophytic pattern. Because the base of the tongue is devoid of pain fibers, these tumors are often asymptomatic until there is significant tumor progression.
Signs and symptoms of advanced base-of-the-tongue cancers may include the following:
Lymph node metastasis is common because
of the rich lymphatic drainage of the base of the tongue. Approximately
70% or more of patients with advanced base-of-the-tongue cancers have ipsilateral cervical nodal metastases; 30% or fewer of such patients have bilateral, cervical lymph–node metastases. The cervical lymph nodes involved commonly include levels II, III, IV, and V and retropharyngeal lymph nodes.
Soft palate tumors are primarily found on the anterior surface. Lesions in this area may remain superficial and in early stages. The lymphatic drainage is primarily to level II nodes.
Pharyngeal wall lesions can spread
superiorly to involve the nasopharynx, posteriorly to infiltrate the
prevertebral fascia, and inferiorly to involve the pyriform sinuses and
hypopharyngeal walls. Primary lymphatic drainage is to the
retropharyngeal nodes and level II and III nodes. Because most
pharyngeal tumors extend past the midline, bilateral cervical metastases
Early-stage tumors are often asymptomatic. Tumors of the pharyngeal wall are typically diagnosed in an advanced stage.
Signs and symptoms of advanced pharyngeal wall tumors may include the following:
Anything that increases your risk of getting a disease is called a risk factor. Having a risk factor does not mean that you will get cancer; not having risk factors doesn't mean that you will not get cancer. Talk with your doctor if you think you may be at risk. Risk factors for oropharyngeal cancer include the following:
These and other signs and symptoms may be caused by oropharyngeal cancer or by other conditions. Check with your doctor if you have any of the following:
The following tests and procedures may be used:
The prognosis (chance of recovery) depends on the following:
Treatment options depend on the following:
For more information on Oropharyngeal Cancer click here
This link is to the National Cancer Institute (NCI) cancer website in the United States. There may be references to drugs and clinical trials that are not available here in Australia.
Page last updated: 18/07/2018