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, which are cancers arising from the surface cells of the throat.
The oropharynx is the middle part of the pharynx (throat). The pharynx is a hollow tube that begins behind the nose and goes down through 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.
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:
The following may be signs of oropharyngeal cancer or of other conditions. See a doctor if any of the following symptoms are present:
A doctor can diagnose oropharyngeal cancer by examining the throat. The doctor will use a mirror and lights, and/or a fiberoptic scope, 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.
Stage I - Treatment may be radiation therapy or surgery.
Stage II - Treatment involves surgery to remove the cancer or radiation therapy.
Stage III - Treatment for this stage of oropharyngeal cancer may include surgery to remove the cancer, followed by radiation therapy.
Other treatments may include:
Stage IV - For cases in which oropharyngeal cancer can be removed by surgery, treatment may be one of the following:
For cases in which the cancer cannot be removed by surgery, treatment may include one of the following:
Risk factors for oropharyngeal cancer include the following:
The prognosis for people with oropharyngeal cancer depends on the health of the person, the HPV status of the tumor, and the stage of the disease. Tumors that are HPV-positive have a dramatically improved cure rate, compared to tumors that are HPV-negative. 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 like smoking and drinking, which increase the risk for second cancers, or recurrent cancer.
© Copyright 1995-2019 The Cleveland Clinic Foundation. All rights reserved.
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. This document was last reviewed on: 01/29/2013