The throat contains three types of tonsils: the pharyngeal tonsil (adenoids) in the back of the throat, the palatine tonsils on the sides of the throat, and the lingual tonsils on the base of the tongue. Cancer of the tonsils usually involves the palatine tonsils.
Most tonsils cancers are squamous cell carcinoma but some are lymphomas.
Early-stage tonsil cancer is treated with radiation therapy.
Radiation uses high-energy X-rays, electron beams, or radioactive isotopes to destroy cancer cells.
Medical oncologists administer chemotherapy. The medications are taken by mouth or given through a vein. The medicine circulates in the blood and disrupts the growth of the cancer cells.
A promising treatment, called induction chemotherapy, is used to shrink the tonsil tumor. Induction means it is given before other treatments. A period of evaluation and rest is taken after the induction chemotherapy is completed. Then a combination of chemotherapy and radiation is given at the same time (chemoradiation) to completely destroy the tumor.
Surgery is used if chemotherapy and radiation do not destroy the tumor. If the lymph nodes in the neck are affected, a neck dissection may be needed to remove the nodes.
Radiation therapy frequently follows surgery.
Advanced cancer tumors usually require a combination of surgery, radiation and/or chemotherapy.
Chemotherapy may be used for palliative therapy (to help relieve symptoms and slow the tumor growth) if surgery is not possible.