The oropharynx is the middle part of the pharynx (throat). The pharynx is a hollow tube that begins behind the nose and goes down to the neck, becoming part of the tube that extends into the stomach (esophagus). The oropharynx includes the base of the tongue, the tonsils, the soft palate (back of the mouth), and the walls of the pharynx.
Oropharyngeal cancer is a disease in which cancer cells are found within the anatomical borders of the oropharynx. The majority of oropharyngeal cancers are squamous cell carcinomas.
The following might be signs of oropharyngeal cancer or of other conditions. See a doctor if any of the following symptoms are present:
Risk factors for oropharyngeal cancer include the following:
A doctor can diagnose oropharyngeal cancer by examining the throat. The doctor will use a mirror and lights to look at the throat and will feel the neck for masses. If the doctor finds abnormal tissue, he or she will obtain a piece of tissue in a procedure called a biopsy. The tissue will be checked for cancer cells.
The stages of oropharyngeal cancer span from Stage 0 to Stage IV. In Stage 0, cancer is found only in the cells that line the oropharynx. Additional stages are described as follows:
The cancer is 2 centimeters or smaller and has not spread outside the oropharynx.
The cancer is larger than 2 centimeters, but not larger than 4 centimeters and has not spread outside the oropharynx.
In this stage, cancer is larger than 4 centimeters and has not spread outside the oropharynx. An alternate form of this stage is that cancer is any size and has spread to only one lymph node on the same side of the neck as the cancer. The lymph node that contains cancer is 3 centimeters or smaller.
This stage contains the sub-stages of IVA, IVB and IVC.
In Stage IVA, one of the following is the case:
In Stage IVB, one of the following is true:
In Stage IVC, the cancer has spread to other parts of the body. The tumor might be any size and might have spread to lymph nodes.
Treatment might be radiation therapy or surgery.
Treatment involves surgery to remove the cancer or radiation therapy.
Treatment for this stage of oropharyngeal cancer might include surgery to remove the cancer, followed by radiation therapy.
Other treatments might include:
For cases in which oropharyngeal cancer can be removed by surgery, treatment might be one of the following:
For cases in which the cancer cannot be removed by surgery, treatment might include one of the following:
The prognosis for people with oropharyngeal cancer depends on the age and health of the person and the stage of the disease. It is important for people with oral cancer or oropharyngeal cancer to have follow-up exams for the rest of their lives as cancer can occur in nearby areas. In addition, it is important to eliminate risk factors such as smoking and drinking, which increase the risk for second cancers.
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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or healthcare provider. Please consult your healthcare provider for advice about a specific medical condition.
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