Cancer of the oropharynx is a disease in which cancer cells are found in the
tissues of the oropharynx. The oropharynx is the middle part of the throat
(also called the pharynx). The pharynx is a hollow tube about 5 inches long
that starts behind the nose and goes down to the neck to become part of the
esophagus (tube that goes to the stomach). Air and food pass through the
pharynx on the way to the windpipe (trachea) or the esophagus. The oropharynx
includes the base of the tongue, the tonsils, the soft palate (the back of the mouth), and the walls of the pharynx.
Cancer of the oropharynx most commonly starts in the cells that line the
oropharynx. (Refer to the PDQ summaries on Adult Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma
Treatment and Childhood Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma Treatment for more information
on cancer that started in the lymph cells of the oropharynx.)
A doctor should be seen if a person has a sore throat that does not go away, trouble swallowing, weight loss, a lump in the back of the mouth or throat, a change in the
voice, or pain in the ear.
If there are symptoms, a doctor will examine the throat using a mirror and
lights. The doctor will also feel the throat for lumps. If tissue that is not
normal is found, the doctor will need to cut out a small piece and look at it
under the microscope to see if there are any cancer cells. This is called a
The chance of recovery (prognosis) depends on where the cancer is in the
throat, whether the cancer is just in the throat or has spread to other tissues
(the stage), and the patient’s general state of health. After the treatment, a
doctor should be seen regularly because there is a chance of having a second
primary cancer in the head or neck region.
Smoking or drinking alcohol after treatment increases the chance of developing a second primary cancer.
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