How Can Someone Have Tonsil Cancer and Not Know It?

Early-stage tonsil cancer may have symptoms that a patient ignores, such as a sore throat that doesn’t go away, according to MD Anderson Cancer Center. The number one symptom is one tonsil that is larger than the other. Importantly, even patients who had their tonsils removed can develop tonsil cancer because surgeons leave some tonsil tissue behind.

The symptoms of tonsil cancer in later stages include enlarged lymph nodes in the neck and sometimes ear pain, reports M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. Oftentimes, patients are treated for a tonsil infection without results. Sometimes doctors mistake tonsil cancer for a benign cyst.

Tonsils are tissues of white blood cells at the back of the throat, explains M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. They help to prevent infection. Smoking tobacco and drinking alcohol increase the risk for tonsil cancer. A rise in cases in people who don’t smoke or drink may be linked to human papillomavirus.

As of late 2015, radiation is the standard treatment for tonsil cancer, says M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. Radiation therapy often eliminates the cancer and creates fewer problems with speaking or swallowing than surgery. In advanced cases, doctors add chemotherapy to the radiation therapy.

Recurrence of tonsil cancer is low if treatment begins early, notes M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. Tonsil cancer caused by HPV also has a low chance of recurrence.