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Home / Learning About Throat Cancers /

Oropharyngeal Cancer – Stages, symptoms, prognosis and treatment options

oropharyngeal cancer

Oropharyngeal Cancer – Stages, symptoms, prognosis and treatment options

by LabexTrade

Oropharyngeal Cancer

Oropharyngeal cancer is cancer in the oropharynx, which is the middle part of your throat (pharynx).

Signs consist of an aching throat that doesn't go away; swelling in the throat, mouth or neck; coughing up blood; white patch in the mouth and other signs. 

Treatments might consist of surgical treatment, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, targeted drug therapy and immunotherapy.



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What is oropharyngeal cancer?

Oropharyngeal cancer is a type of head and neck cancer in which cancer cells are found within an area of your throat called your oropharynx.

More than 90% of oropharyngeal cancers are squamous cell carcinomas, which are cancers occurring from the flat surface area cells lining your mouth and throat.

What is the oropharynx?

Your oropharynx is the middle part of your throat (pharynx) simply beyond your mouth.

Your oropharynx consists of the back part of your tongue (base of tongue), your tonsils, your soft palate (back part of the roofing system of your mouth), and the sides and walls of your throat.

Your oropharynx makes saliva, keeps your mouth and throat wet and begins to assist digest the food you consume.

How typical is oropharynx cancer?

According to the American Cancer Society, about 53,000 individuals in the U.S. establish oropharyngeal cancer each year. This cancer occurs in twice the variety of men than ladies. It happens in equal quantities in African Americans and Caucasians.

The typical age at medical diagnosis is 62. About 25% of oropharyngeal cancers occur in people under age 55. This cancer is rare in children.

What aspects increase my danger of oropharyngeal cancer?

Factors that increase your chance of getting oropharyngeal cancer consist of:

  • History of cigarette smoking.
  • Heavy alcohol use.
  • History of head and neck cancer.
  • History of radiation treatment to the head and neck.
  • Being contaminated with human papillomavirus (HPV), particularly HPV type 16.

What causes oropharyngeal cancer?

Cancer is an uncontrolled reproduction and accumulation of unusual cells. Abnormal cells take place because of modifications to our DNA-- the "building blocks" of who we are. Various things can trigger cancer. 

When it comes to oropharyngeal cancer, use of tobacco items and alcohol have actually been revealed to harm the cells lining your mouth and throat. 

The infection that triggers HPV infection makes proteins that disrupt the genes that normally keep cell growth under control. Unrestrained cell development can cause cancer. Presently, HPV infection is the most regular cause of oropharyngeal cancer and is on the increase. Some cases of oropharyngeal cancer have no known cause.



What are the symptoms of oropharyngeal cancer?

The following may be signs of oropharyngeal cancer or of other conditions. See a physician if any of the following symptoms exist:

  • An aching throat that doesn't disappear.
  • Discomfort or trouble with swallowing.
  • Difficulty opening your mouth totally or moving your tongue.
  • Unusual weight reduction.
  • Voice changes that do not disappear.
  • Ear discomfort that does not go away.
  • A lump in the back of your throat or mouth.
  • A lump in your neck.
  • Coughing up blood.
  • White spot on your tongue or lining of your mouth doesn't disappear.
Individuals with oropharyngeal or oral cancer might experience the following indications or signs. In some cases, individuals with oropharyngeal or oral cancer do not have any of these changes.

  • Sore in the mouth or on the lip that does not recover; this is the most common sign
  • Red or white spot on the gums, tongue, tonsil, or lining of the mouth
  • Lump on the lip, throat, neck, or mouth or a sensation of thickening in the cheek
  • Relentless sore throat or sensation that something is captured in the throat
  • Hoarseness or change in voice
  • Tingling of the mouth or tongue
  • Discomfort or bleeding in the mouth
  • Problem chewing, swallowing, or moving the jaws or tongue
  • Ear and/or jaw pain
  • Chronic foul breath
  • Changes in speech
  • Loosening of teeth or tooth pain
  • Dentures that no longer fit
  • Unusual weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite, especially when lengthened; this might occur during the later stages of the illness

How is oropharyngeal cancer identified?

Numerous patients with oropharyngeal cancer at first present with a neck mass. Any adult with a neck mass for more than two weeks ought to see an otolaryngologist-head and neck cosmetic surgeon for an assessment, which is a complete head and neck assessment to figure out if there is a growth from which the cancer has actually migrated to the neck. 

This may consist of checking out the throat with a small scope that is gone through the nose to permit the doctor to see if there are any suspicious masses.

Growths of the oropharynx need to be biopsied. For chosen tumors that are accessible in the center, biopsies can be carried out with regional anesthesia. 

For other tumors, biopsies are often carried out in the operating room while the patient is asleep. This permits a comprehensive assessment of the extent of the tumor and offers details to strategy treatment in addition to diagnostic info. 

A great needle aspiration biopsy, a treatment that places a small needle into the neck mass to extract cells, is performed with local anesthesia in a clinic. 

This enables a pathologist to evaluate the cells under a microscope to figure out if the neck mass is malignant and if it belongs to HPV. A total work-up includes imaging, which might consist of an MRI, CT positron or scan emission tomography (FAMILY PET) scan.

Lip, oral cavity, and p16 negative oropharynx stages:

Stage 0.

The cancer is still within the epithelium (the top layer of cells lining the oral cavity and oropharynx) and has actually not yet grown into much deeper layers.

It has actually not spread to nearby lymph nodes (N0) or remote sites (M0). This phase is likewise known as cancer in situ (Tis).

Stage I.

  • The cancer is 2 cm (about 3/4 inch) or smaller. 
  • It's not growing into nearby tissues (T1). 
  • It has not spread to nearby lymph nodes (N0) or to far-off sites (M0).

Stage II.

  • The cancer is larger than 2 cm but no larger than 4 cm (about 1 1/2 inch). 
  • It's not becoming close-by tissues (T2). 
  • It has not infected close-by lymph nodes (N0) or to remote websites (M0).

Stage III.

a) The cancer is larger than 4 cm (T3). 

For cancers of the oropharynx, T3 likewise consists of growths that are turning into the epiglottis (the base of the tongue). 

It has not infected neighboring lymph nodes (N0) or to remote websites (M0) or

b) The cancer is any size and might have become nearby structures if oropharynx cancer( T1-T3) AND has spread to 1 lymph node on the same side as the main tumor. 

The cancer has not grown outside of the lymph node and the lymph node is no larger than 3 cm (about 1 1/4 inch) (N1). 

It has actually not infected remote websites (M0).

Stage IVA.

a) The cancer is any size and is growing into neighboring structures such as:

For oropharyngeal cancers:

  • the throat (voice box), 
  • the tongue muscle, or 
  • bones such as the medial pterygoid, the hard taste buds, or the jaw (T4a).

This is called reasonably advanced local illness (T4a).

AND either of the following:

  • It has actually not spread to close-by lymph nodes (N0).
  • It has infected 1 lymph node on the same side as the main tumor, but has actually not grown beyond the lymph node and the lymph node is no larger than 3 cm (about 1 1/4 inch) (N1).
  • It has actually not infected distant sites (M0). or.

b) The cancer is any size and may have become nearby structures (T0-T4a).

 It has actually not infected remote organs (M0). 

  • It has actually infected one of the following:
  • 1 lymph node on the same side as the main tumor, however it has actually not grown beyond the lymph node and the lymph node is larger than 3 cm however not larger than 6 cm (about 2 1/2 inches) (N2a) OR. 
  • It has infected more than 1 lymph node on the very same side as the main growth, however it has actually not grown outside of any of the lymph nodes and none are larger than 6 cm (N2b) OR.
  • It has actually spread to 1 or more lymph nodes either on the opposite side of the primary growth or on both sides of the neck, however has actually not grown outside any of the lymph nodes and none are larger than 6 cm (N2c).

Stage IVB.

The cancer is any size and might have turned into neighboring soft tissues or structures (Any T) AND any of the following:

  • It has actually spread to 1 lymph node that's larger than 6 cm but has actually not grown beyond the lymph node (N3a) OR.
  • It has infected 1 lymph node that's larger than 3 cm and has plainly grown outside the lymph node (N3b) OR.
  • It has actually spread to more than 1 lymph node on the exact same side, the opposite side, or both sides of the primary cancer with growth outside of the lymph node( s) (N3b) OR.
  • It has spread to 1 lymph node on the opposite side of the main cancer that's 3 cm or smaller and has actually grown outside of the lymph node (N3b).
  • It has actually not infected far-off organs (M0).
  • It might or may not have actually spread to nearby lymph nodes (Any N). 
  • It has not spread out to far-off organs (M0).

Stage IVC.

The cancer is any size and might have become neighboring soft tissues or structures (Any T) AND it may or may not have infected neighboring lymph nodes (Any N). 

It has infected distant websites such as the lungs (M1).

p16 positive oropharynx phases.

Stage I.

The cancer is no larger than 4 cm (about 1 1/2 inches) (T0 to T2) AND any of the following:

  • It has not infected neighboring lymph nodes (N0) OR.
  • It has actually infected 1 or more lymph nodes on the very same side as the main cancer, and none are larger than 6 cm (N1).
  • It has actually not infected remote websites (M0).

Stage II.

a) The cancer is no larger than 4 cm (about 1 1/2 inches) (T0 to T2) AND it has spread to 1 or more lymph nodes on the opposite side of the main cancer or both sides of the neck, and none are larger than 6 cm (N2). 

It has not spread to distant websites (M0).

b) The cancer is larger than 4 cm (about 1 1/2 inches) (T3) OR is growing into the epiglottis (the base of the tongue) (T3) OR is growing into the throat (voice box), the tongue muscle, or bones such as the median pterygoid plate, the tough palate, or the jaw (T4) AND any of the following:.

  • It has actually not spread to neighboring lymph nodes (N0) OR.
  • It has actually infected 1 or more lymph nodes on the exact same side as the primary cancer, and none are larger than 6 cm (N1).
  • It has actually not spread to far-off sites (M0).

Stage III.

The cancer is larger than 4 cm (about 1 1/2 inches) (T3) OR is growing into the epiglottis (the base of the tongue) (T3) OR is growing into the throat (voice box), the tongue muscle, or bones such as the medial pterygoid plate, the tough palate, or the jaw (T4) AND it has spread to 1 or more lymph nodes on the opposite side of the primary cancer or both sides of the neck, and none are larger than 6 cm (N2). It has not infected far-off sites (M0).

Stage IV.

The cancer is any size and may have grown into close-by structures (Any T) AND it might or might not have infected nearby lymph nodes (Any N). It has actually infected far-off sites such as the bones or lungs (M1).

Oropharyngeal Cancer Treatment

Treatment for oropharyngeal cancer depends upon numerous factors, including but not restricted to: kind of cancer, size of the tumor and area of the cancer, lymph nodes, speech and swallow function, and the patient's overall medical condition.

Treatments include surgical treatment (minimally invasive robotic surgery and neck dissection), radiation and chemotherapy. Radiation is often required after surgery. 

Usually a combination of radiation and chemotherapy is suggested when surgical treatment is not used to treat these tumors. A multidisciplinary group assists offer an optimum plan for each patient.



Stage 0 (carcinoma in situ).

Although cancer in this stage is on the surface layer and has not begun to grow into deeper layers of tissue, it can do so if not treated. 

The usual treatment is surgical treatment (typically Mohs surgical treatment, surgical stripping, or thin resection) to remove the leading layers of tissue in addition to a little margin (edge) of typical tissue. 

Close follow-up is very important to expect signs that the cancer has come back. 

Cancer in situ that keeps coming back after surgery might need to be treated with radiation treatment.

Nearly all people with this stage survive a long time without the need for more extreme treatment.

 Still, it's important to keep in mind that continuing to smoke increases the threat that a new cancer will establish.

Stages I and II.

A lot of patients with stage I or II oropharyngeal cancer do well when treated with surgical treatment and/or radiation therapy. 

Both surgery and radiation work well in dealing with these cancers.

For cancers of the back of the tongue, soft taste buds, and tonsils, the main treatment is radiation treatment intended at the lymph and the cancer nodes in the neck. 

If any cancer stays after surgical treatment, chemoradiation is typically utilized.

Stages III and IVA.

Oropharyngeal cancers.

These are cancers in the back of the tongue, soft palate, and tonsils that are bigger cancers, have grown into close-by tissues, and/or have spread out to nearby lymph nodes in the neck. 

If the cancer has spread out to neck lymph nodes, they may likewise require to be eliminated (a lymph node dissection) after chemoradiation is done.

Another alternative is to use surgical treatment  initially to remove the cancer and neck lymph nodes. 

This is often followed by radiation or chemoradiation to reduce the opportunity of the cancer returning.

The option of treatment is influenced by where the cancer is, how much it has actually spread out, the anticipated side effects, patient choices, and the patient's current health status.

Some doctors give chemo as the very first treatment, followed by chemoradiation, and after that surgical treatment if required.

 Not all medical professionals concur with this technique.

Stages IVB and IVC.

These are HPV-negative cancers that have already spread into close-by tissues, structures, and possibly lymph nodes. 

Stage IVC cancers have spread to other parts of the body, such as the lungs.

Scientific trials are taking a look at different ways of combining radiation and chemo with or without cetuximab or other new representatives to improve survival and lifestyle, and reduce the requirement for radical or deforming surgical treatment to treat these advanced cancers in the mouth and throat.

For cancers of the back of the tongue, soft palate, and tonsils, the main treatment is radiation therapy intended at the cancer and the lymph nodes in the neck. 

These are cancers in the back of the tongue, soft taste buds, and tonsils that are bigger cancers, have actually grown into nearby tissues, and/or have spread out to nearby lymph nodes in the neck. 

If the cancer has spread to neck lymph nodes, they may likewise need to be eliminated (a lymph node dissection) after chemoradiation is done.

These are HPV-negative cancers that have actually already spread into close-by tissues, structures, and possibly lymph nodes. 

Stages IVC cancers have spread to other parts of the body, such as the lungs.

Researchers are examining treatment de-intensification strategies to minimize the toxicities of treatment while preserving the survival outcomes. This may require reduced radiation and/or chemotherapy or immunotherapy routines.

Medical diagnosis of oropharyngeal cancer

If you have signs, you generally begin by seeing your GP or dental expert. They will analyze your mouth closely. They will refer you to a specialist doctor if:

  • they believe that your signs could be triggered by cancer
  • they are uncertain what the issue is.

The specialist doctor will ask about your signs and basic health. They will examine your mouth and throat using a bright light.

If your only sign is a lump in your neck, you may be directed to a hospital that has a neck lump center.

You may have some of the following tests:

  • Nasendoscopy - utilized to take a look at the inside of your nose and throat.
  • Biopsy - The medical professional collects samples (biopsies) of cells or tissue from the location that looks abnormal. A physician who specialises in analysing cells (called a pathologist) takes a look at the sample under a microscopic lense for cancer cells. Your physician might take a biopsy while they are examining you with the nasendoscope. Or they may schedule you to have a general anaesthetic to take the biopsy.
  • Ultrasound scan of the neck - An ultrasound scan of the neck utilizes soundwaves to produce a picture of your neck and lymph nodes on a computer system screen.
  • Great needle goal (FNA) of the lymph nodes - You may have a great needle aspiration (FNA) of the lymph nodes if the lymph nodes in your neck do not feel or look typical on a scan. It is done to see whether there are any cancer cells in the lymph nodes.

Additional tests for oropharyngeal cancer

Your specialist may set up further tests. These may help diagnose oropharyngeal cancer or be utilized to check whether it has spread out:

  • CT scan
  • MRI scan
  • PET-CT scan
  • Evaluating for viruses

Surgical treatment of oropharyngeal cancer

Negative margins suggest that there is no trace of cancer in the margin's healthy tissue. Cosmetic surgeons are typically able to inform in the operating space if all of the tumor has actually been eliminated.

In some cases surgical treatment is followed by radiation treatment, therapies utilizing medication, or both. Depending upon the location, stage, grade, and other features of the cancer, some individuals might require more than 1 operation to remove the cancer and to help restore the appearance and function of the affected tissues.

The most typical surgeries for the elimination of oral and oropharyngeal cancer include:

  • Primary tumor surgical treatment. The tumor and a margin of healthy tissue around it are eliminated to decrease the opportunity that any cancerous cells will be left. The tumor may be eliminated through the mouth or through a cut in the neck. A mandibulotomy, in which the jawbone is split to enable the cosmetic surgeon to reach the tumor, might also be needed.
  • Glossectomy. This is the partial or total elimination of the tongue.
  • Mandibulectomy. If the tumor has actually gone into a jawbone however not spread into the bone, then a piece of the jawbone or the entire jawbone will be removed. If there is proof of destruction of the jawbone on an x-ray, then the whole bone might require to be eliminated.

  • Maxillectomy. This surgical treatment eliminates part or all of the hard palate, which is the bony roof of the mouth. Prostheses (synthetic gadgets), or more recently, the use of flaps of soft tissue with and without bone can be put to fill gaps produced throughout this operation.

  • Neck dissection. Cancer of the mouth and oropharynx frequently infects lymph nodes in the neck. Avoiding the cancer from infecting the lymph nodes is an essential objective of treatment It might be necessary to eliminate some or all of these lymph nodes using a surgical procedure called a neck dissection, even if the lymph nodes show no evidence of cancer when analyzed. A neck dissection may be followed by radiation therapy or a combination of chemotherapy and radiation treatment, called chemoradiation, to ensure there is no cancer staying in the lymph nodes. In some cases, for oropharyngeal cancer, a neck dissection will be advised after radiation treatment or chemoradiation. If a neck dissection is not possible, radiation treatment may be utilized rather.

  • Laryngectomy. A laryngectomy is the complete or partial elimination of the larynx or voice box. The throat is crucial for producing sounds, the larynx is also vital to swallowing due to the fact that if secures the airway from food and liquid entering the trachea or windpipe and reaching the lungs, which can cause pneumonia. A laryngectomy is hardly ever needed to treat oropharyngeal or oral cancer. When there is a large tumor of the tongue or oropharynx, the doctor may require to eliminate the throat to safeguard the respiratory tract throughout swallowing. If the throat is gotten rid of, the windpipe is reattached to the skin of the neck where a hole, called a stoma or tracheostomy, is made. Rehabilitation will be needed to learn a brand-new way of speaking .

  • In TORS, an endoscope is used to see a tumor in the throat, the base of the tongue, and the tonsils. 2 small robotic instruments act as the cosmetic surgeon's arms to get rid of the growth. The laser is then used to remove the growth.

After oropharyngeal cancer treatment

You will have regular follow-up visits after treatment. These may continue for numerous years. You may also have routine follow-up appointments with a speech and language therapist (SLT), dietitian, corrective dental practitioner and oral hygienist.

If you have any issues or notice new signs between consultations, let your doctor know as quickly as possible.

Sex life and fertility after oropharyngeal cancer treatme

Head and neck cancer and its treatment can sometimes impact your sex life and fertility.

It is essential to talk with your medical professional prior to you start treatment if you are stressed about this.

Late results

Some side effects that establish throughout treatment might take a long period of time to improve, or may sometimes end up being permanent. These are called long-term results. Other results can establish months or even years after treatment has finished. These are referred to as late results.

Well-being and recovery

Even if you already have a healthy way of life, you may pick to make some favorable way of life changes after treatment

Making small changes to the way you live such as consuming well and keeping active can enhance your health and well-being and help your body recuperate.

It can be hard to eat well after treatment for head and neck cancer, but your dietitian can help you.

Your feelings after oropharyngeal cancer treatment.

For some individuals, it takes a number of months to recover from treatment. It can be hard to cope if treatment has altered your look, voice or how you drink and consume. It is common to feel overloaded by different sensations.

If you would like to join our FREE Post-Vocal Surgery Support Group, you can do so here: www.facebook.com/groups/labexsupportforlaryngectomee/ 

You  may want to check out our Youtube Channels as well: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCa-6497yfIbbZbhUoqlKYvQ  

You can learn more about throat cancer surgeries in our other article here: https://labextrade.com/learn-more-about-the-different-throat-cancer-operations/ 

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