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Throat cancer: Causes, symptoms and treatment of oropharyngeal cancer

Updated on June 9, 2012
pandula77 profile image

Pandula is a medical doctor by profession and is also a health informatics expert with a PhD from the University of Oslo, Norway.

According to the American Cancer Institute, oral and oropharyngeal cancers are ranked eighth out of the most common cancers in the United States and perhaps at a higher rank in many other parts of the world. It further states that around 40,000 adults are diagnosed of these diseases each year while around 7000 deaths are also recorded annually as a result of complications related to oral and oropharyngeal cancers. However, when taken alone, oropharyngeal cancers are relatively rare.

What is oropharynx?

Oropharynx refers to the middle portion of the throat just behind the mouth. It includes the back third of the tongue, the tonsils, the side and back wall of the throat as well as the soft palate. Thus, any cancer originating in relation to these sites could be considered a oropharyngeal cancer.


What are the main causes for oropharyngeal cancer?

According to researchers, smoking and chewing tobacco along with the excessive alcohol intake have been linked with the higher incidence of oropharyngeal cancer among the susceptible individuals. At the same time, not having enough fruits and vegetables in the diet could also pose a threat by increasing the susceptibility towards developing such cancers. In parts of Asia, chewing betal quid is a major cause of developing oropharyngeal cancer while in the South America, the stimulant drink mate have been seen as risk factors for such cancers. An infection with Human Papillomavirus (HPV) could also contribute towards the risk of oropharyngeal cancers and according to researchers; the rise in the incidence of oropharyngeal cancers seen in the recent past has been attributed to the increased incidence of HPV infections.

What are the symptoms of oropharyngeal cancer?

Distinguishing a oropharyngeal cancer is difficult based purely on its symptoms as many other oropharyngeal diseases and other oral cancers may manifest with similar symptoms. However, following are the commonest symptoms that may result from oropharyngeal cancers.

  1. Persisting sore throat
  2. Continuing cough
  3. Difficulty in swallowing
  4. A change in the voice
  5. Feeling of a lump in the throat, back of the mouth or in the neck
  6. Ear pain
  7. A central chest pain felt towards the neck
  8. Unexplained weight loss

Tonsil cancer pictures
Tonsil cancer pictures

What is the chance of survival (prognosis) after detecting an oropharyngeal cancer?

Patient with oropharyngeal cancer would have a very good prognosis if it can be detected early. However, there are several factors that influence the prognosis of oropharyngeal cancer and among them,

  • stage and the grade of the cancer
  • location of the tumor and
  • association with HPV infection are the main criteria.

Cancer survival
Cancer survival

What are the available treatment methods?

Depending on the stage and the grade of the tumor, the clinicians will decide on the appropriate treatment method and in most instances, a combination of surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy could be used to treat patients with oropharyngeal cancer. However, the selection of these modalities would also be dependent on the patients overall health. Apart from these, treatment modalities such as immunotherapy and targeted cancer therapy have also been utilized to treat oropharyngeal cancer. However, the effectiveness of such therapies require more research and perhaps a decade of use to reach its full potential.


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    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Great post with lots of impnatrot stuff.

    • pandula77 profile imageAUTHOR

      Dr Pandula 

      8 years ago from Norway

      @forall: thanks for the comments. Not having enough fruits and vegetables in the diet could increase the susceptibility towards oral cancers. This would give a better idea. - "Consistently, these studies observed a protective effect of a diet high in fruit intake, reflected in a 20-80% reduction in oral cancer risk"

    • forall profile image


      8 years ago

      Informative. How can diet increase the susceptibility of developing cancers?


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