Oropharyngeal Cancer

Oropharyngeal describes the part of the throat, or pharynx, at the back of the mouth. The pharynx starts behind the nose and stretches to where the esophagus and trachea split into two separate passages. Oropharyngeal cancers—considered a type of head and neck cancer—affect the cells that line the surface of your throat and are characterized as squamous cell carcinomas. Risk factors are smoking, heavy alcohol use, a history of head and neck cancer, and being infected with human papillomavirus (HPV). While oropharyngeal cancer may not cause symptoms early in the disease, typical signs and symptoms include:

  • Chronic sore throat
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Trouble opening the mouth fully
  • Trouble moving the tongue
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Ear pain or ringing in the ear
  • Frequent nose bleeds
  • Headaches
  • A lump in the back of the mouth, throat, or neck
  • An enduring white patch found on the tongue or inside the mouth
  • Coughing up blood

Diagnostic testing involves physical examination, imaging tests, and biopsy; treatment options vary and depend on the cancer stage and the patient’s general health. Maintaining the patient’s ability to speak and swallow normally is also a consideration in making an appropriate treatment decision. Four standard treatment options for oropharyngeal cancer are:

  • Surgery
  • Radiation therapy
  • Chemotherapy
  • Targeted therapy