Exceptional Care for Oropharyngeal Cancer
Cancer that develops in the upper throat (the oropharynx) is called oropharyngeal cancer, a type of head and neck cancer. The oropharynx is located just behind the mouth and includes the base of the tongue, the soft palate (the soft, back part of the roof of the mouth), and the tonsils.
Most oropharyngeal cancers are squamous cell carcinomas, which form in the thin, flat cells that line the mouth and throat. These cells also form the top layer of skin and make up other parts of the body such as the esophagus and lungs.
At the Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center, we have teams of surgeons, doctors, nurses, and other providers who specialize in treating head and neck cancers. Our team for oropharyngeal cancer care includes otolaryngologists (ear, nose, and throat specialists), radiation and medical oncologists, oral and dental oncologists, physical and occupational therapists, and speech pathologists.
Causes and Risk Factors of Oropharyngeal Cancer
Although the specific causes of oropharyngeal cancer are not fully known, certain factors can increase the chance of developing it. Not everyone with risk factors will develop oropharyngeal cancer. Also, people without known risk factors can develop the disease. Risk factors include:
- Tobacco use
- Infection with human papillomavirus, a sexually transmitted virus
- Heavy alcohol use
- Betel nuts, a stimulant commonly used by people in Asia
Patients can help prevent oropharyngeal cancer by avoiding these risk factors. Learn more about head and neck cancer awareness and prevention.
Symptoms of Oropharyngeal Cancer
Some people do not experience any symptoms, and some symptoms can occur with other conditions. Patients should see their doctors if they experience any of these symptoms and they don’t go away:
- Pain or sores in the mouth that don’t go away
- Lump or thickening in the cheek or neck
- Changes in the voice, such as hoarseness
- White or red patches on the gums, tongue, tonsils, or lining of the mouth
- Difficulty moving the jaw or tongue, chewing, or swallowing
- Teeth that are loose or painful
- Jaw pain or swelling
- Numbness in the mouth, such as the tongue
- Sore throat or feeling of something being stuck in the throat
- Unexplained weight loss
Stages of Oropharyngeal Cancer
Cancer staging is the process doctors use to determine how large a tumor is, whether cancer has spread, and, if so, how far. The stages of oropharyngeal cancer include: