Head and Neck CancersTonsil Cancer

Let’s Talk About Tonsil Cancer

We’ve got the doctor-approved details on the causes, symptoms, and treatments of this news-making disease so you can stay one step ahead of it.

    Our Pro PanelTonsil Cancer

    We went to some of the nation’s top experts on head and neck cancer to bring you the most up-to-date information possible.

    Salvatore M. Caruana, M.D.

    Salvatore M. Caruana, M.D.Director of the Division of Head and Neck Surgery

    New York-Presbyterian Hospital Columbia University Medical Center
    New York, NY
    Nadia Mohyuddin, M.D.

    Nadia Mohyuddin, M.D.Head and Neck Surgical Oncologist, Associate Professor of Clinical Otolaryngology

    Houston Methodist Hospital
    Houston, TX
    J. Kenneth Byrd, M.D.

    J. Kenneth Byrd, M.D.Chief of Head and Neck Surgery, Medical Director and Research Director

    Georgia Cancer Center at Augusta University
    Augusta, GA

    Frequently Asked QuestionsTonsil Cancer

    Is tonsil cancer curable?

    Yes, it’s highly curable when caught early, and especially if the cancer is caused by the HPV virus instead of tobacco and alcohol use. Tonsil cancer is considered “early” if it is Stage 1 or Stage 2, and some Stage 3 cancers if they are small with little to no lymph node involvement. The overall five-year survival rate for HPV tonsil cancers is about 71%, but that drops to 36% for tonsil cancer caused by tobacco and alcohol.

    I had my tonsils out—how can I have tonsil cancer?

    Strange as it sounds, you can still get tonsil cancer because some of the tonsil tissue usually remains after a tonsillectomy. Remember, too, that you have three sets of tonsils: While cancer is most common in the palatine tonsils, it can occur in the other two types as well. In addition, some research has shown that the risk of base of tongue cancer increases when the palatine tonsils have been removed.

    Will I be able to eat normally after tonsil cancer?

    In many cases, yes, but it takes time. Eating after surgery can be challenging because the muscles and structures that support swallowing have been weakened. (Side effects of radiation can also contribute to the problem.) A swallowing specialist can teach you exercises that will help. In some instances, a temporary feeding tube may be used while you recover.

    I have tonsil stones—is that a risk factor?

    Not to worry: Tonsil stones are harmless growths that can form on the inside and outside of the tonsils. The pale yellow or white gravel-size bumps are the result of food particles, saliva, bacteria and cellular debris getting trapped. People with bumpier, crevice-filled tonsils are more likely to develop them than people with smooth tonsils.

    Stephanie Wood

    Stephanie Wood

    Stephanie Wood is a award-winning freelance writer and former magazine editor specializing in health, nutrition, wellness, and parenting.