Oropharyngeal cancer is a type of head and neck cancer. It is a malignant condition of the oropharynx, which is the middle part of the pharynx (throat), behind the mouth. The term, malignant refers to the condition of uncontrolled growth of cells that turns out to be harmful.
Oropharyngeal cancer can develop in any part of the oropharynx including:
- Soft palate
- Back one-third of the tongue
- Side and back walls of the throat
Sometimes, oropharyngeal cancer can affect more than one part of the oropharynx and adjacent parts, the nose, pharynx, larynx, trachea, or esophagus.
What causes oropharyngeal cancer?
Oropharyngeal cancer occurs when abnormal cellular changes (mutations) occur and cause the cells of the organ to grow uncontrollably. These cells accumulate and give rise to growths called tumors, which if malignant are called oropharyngeal cancer.
The most common factors that increase your risk of developing cancer include:
- Smoking tobacco or using tobacco in other ways
- Infected with human papillomavirus (HPV), especially HPV type 16
- Heavy alcohol use
- Having a history of head and neck cancer
Having any one of the risk factors above does not necessarily mean you will develop oropharyngeal cancer. Additionally, not having any of the risk factors does not mean you will never develop cancer.
If you have any concerns, discuss them with your doctor, who can identify whether you are at risk, examine you, and recommend screening tests, if necessary.
10 symptoms of oropharyngeal cancer
Not all oropharyngeal cancers cause signs or symptoms. If you develop the symptoms, the most common is a lump in the neck.
Other symptoms may include:
- Muffled voice
- A sore throat that persists
- Difficulty or pain with swallowing
- Neck mass
- Ear pain
- Trouble opening the mouth fully
- Trouble moving the tongue
- Unintentional weight loss
- A white patch on the tongue that does not go away
- Coughing up blood
These signs and symptoms may be caused by oropharyngeal cancer or by less serious conditions other than cancer. Schedule an appointment with your doctor if you suffer from more than one of the above signs and symptoms.
How is oropharyngeal cancer diagnosed?
To diagnose oropharyngeal cancer, your doctor will try to rule out all other causes that commonly cause the signs and symptoms.
The doctor will also:
- Take your medical history
- Ask about the duration of signs and symptoms
- Ask about your personal history, including smoking history
- Review current and past illnesses
- Note down the medications you have been taking
Next, your provider will check your mouth, throat, and neck for any growth. They may use a long tube (fibreoptic scope) attached with a mirror and light to further check the abnormal areas in the mouth and throat. If they find anything suspicious, they will remove a small piece of the affected area and send it to the laboratory for analysis under a microscope. This procedure is called a biopsy.
The doctor may order one or more imaging tests of the throat area to get detailed images of the organs. These tests include computed tomography, magnetic resonance imaging, or positron emission tomography scan.
How is oropharyngeal cancer treated?
Your doctor will decide on treatment for oropharyngeal cancer after analyzing the following factors:
- Type of cancer
- Size of the tumor
- Location of the tumor
- Lymph node involvement
- Speech and swallow function
- Your overall medical condition
Treatment options for oropharyngeal cancer include:
- Surgery: Your doctor may plan surgeries, such as minimally invasive robotic surgery and neck dissection, to remove the tumor.
- Radiation: After surgery, your pelvic area may be exposed to these high-energy X-rays that will help kill any cancer cells that still exist in the pelvic area.
- Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy is planned generally after the surgery to get rid of any remaining cancer cells or if cancer has spread to other organs.
- Targeted therapy: Targeted therapy targets cancer’s specific genes, proteins, or the tissue environment that help cancer grow.
- Immunotherapy: Immunotherapy uses antibodies or medications that use the immune system to fight cancer cells.
- Clinical trials: You can ask your doctor if you can participate in clinical trials that test the use of new treatments for oropharyngeal cancer.
- Attachment Theory: What It Is, Stages & the Different Attachment Styles
- Gentle Parenting: What It Is, Techniques & Discipline
- U.S. Nursing Homes Fail to Report Many Serious Falls, Bedsores: Study
- The Younger You Get Diabetes, the Higher Your Risk for Dementia Later
- FDA Grants Full Approval to Paxlovid to Treat COVID-19
- More Health News »
Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
Sim CQ. Cancers of the Oral Mucosa. Medscape. https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/1075729-overview
Top What Is Oropharyngeal Cancer Related Articles
CancerCancer is a disease caused by an abnormal growth of cells, also called malignancy. It is a group of 100 different diseases, and is not contagious. Cancer can be treated through chemotherapy, a treatment of drugs that destroy cancer cells.
Cancer 101 SlideshowLearn the basics about cancer including types, causes, how it spreads, symptoms and signs, stages and treatment options. Read about the common type of cancers.
Cancer Risk Factors and CausesThough it's difficult to say why some people develop cancer while others don't, research shows that certain risk factors increase a person's odds of developing cancer. These risk factors include growing older, family history of cancer, diet, alcohol and tobacco use, and exposure to sunlight, ionizing radiation, certain chemicals, and some viruses and bacteria.
Cancer PainCancer pain is a common experience that may result from the disease, treatment, or diagnostic procedure. Check out the center below for more medical references on cancer, including multimedia (slideshows, images, and quizzes), related disease conditions, treatment and diagnosis, medications, and prevention or wellness.
Top Cancer-Fighting FoodsExperts have praised certain foods for their ability to reduce cancer risks. Learn which foods and eating strategies may help reduce your risk of developing cancer.
Cancer QuizTake this quiz to learn the causes of cancer. Get the facts about the causes, symptoms, and treatments for the world's most common cancers.
Cancer: Does This Cause Cancer?Everything gives you cancer, right? Not really. WebMD's slide show tells you about the research into cancer and cell phones, X-rays, plastic bottles, coffee, and more.
Head and Neck Cancer QuizLearn the facts about head and neck cancers.
What Are the Top 11 Cancer-Fighting Foods?Foods that fight cancer include phytochemicals, berries, turmeric, onions, and more. Learn how you can lower your risk of developing cancer through your diet.
What Are the 15 Common Signs of Cancer?The term cancer is given to a group of diseases characterized by the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells in the body. Some of the common signs of cancer include unintended weight loss, fatigue, bleeding, presence of a mass, persistent cough, abdominal pain and other signs.
What Are the Signs of Salivary Gland Cancers?Salivary gland tumors are abnormal growths of cells in the salivary glands. They can arise from any of the salivary glands. Salivary gland cancers are rare. Benign (noncancerous) growths of the salivary glands are more common.
What Are the Top Ten Cancers?Lung cancer is the number one killer cancer in the world. It is the most common cause of cancer-related deaths in both men and women.
What Is the First Sign of Throat Cancer?Throat cancer involves the development of malignancies of the throat (pharynx), voice box (larynx) and tonsils. The early symptoms of throat cancer may be similar to a cold in the early stages (e.g., a persistent sore throat). The three main types of throat cancer are oropharyngeal cancer, laryngeal cancer and hypopharyngeal cancer.
What Is the Most Common Head and Neck Cancer?Cancer in the head and neck region may affect your mouth (oral cavity), tongue, parts of the throat (pharynx), nose or nasal sinuses, salivary glands, gums, tonsils, voice-box (larynx) and middle ear. Globally, approximately 550,000 people are diagnosed with head and neck cancer (HNC) every year.
What Were Your First Signs of Esophageal Cancer?Like many types of cancer, esophageal cancer in its early stages may be asymptomatic. Diagnosis in people without symptoms is usually accidental because of tests run for other medical problems. A few signs of cancer may be seen in a few people.
Which Cancer Is the Most Painful?Cancer spreading to the bone is the most painful type of cancer. Pain can be caused by a tumor pressing on the nerves around the bone. As the tumor size increases, it can release chemicals that irritate the area around the tumor.