The past decade has brought a tsunami of tonsil cancer (and lingual tonsil cancer) to ENT clinics. The Human Papillomavirus (HPV), long linked to cervical cancer, is now the most common cause of cancer in the throat. The good news is our experience with this newer subtype of throat cancers has shown the HPV-linked cancers to be more responsive to treatments like surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy such that most of these now have a 85%-plus cure rate.
More common than throat cancer of course is the fear of throat cancer. Each week we see patients just like you who may have a throat symptom lasting a few weeks or months who desperately need their mind put at ease. And most all the time we have a look, in the mouth and often with a fiberoptic camera examination in the throat, and reassure that the lump or scratchiness or pain is something simple like a tonsil infection or acid reflux.
However we do also see new throat cancers, each an every month. These may happen at any age, but are more common after 40 years old. Smoking is a risk factor, but since HPV we are seeing more nonsmokers with cancer than smokers! A sore throat, a lump in throat, a recurring “tonsil infection”, painful swallowing, bloody mucous or a lump in the neck should be checked out with an office visit. About 2/3 of tonsil cancers are discovered AFTER they have already spread to nearby lymph nodes in the neck.
We work closely with medical oncologists at the Northside Cancer center to expedite testing and evaluation and help build a consensus treatment plan. Every new cancer patient in our office is presented at a multidisciplinary tumor conference to get every specialists’ input on treatment. Give us a call if you have any of these symptoms lasting for more than a couple weeks!