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Oropharangeal Cancer Oropharangeal Cancer
Though the rates of many types of cancer are declining, the incidences of oropharangeal cancer are on the rise. In fact, the American... Oropharangeal Cancer

by Kimberly Allen, RN

Though the rates of many types of cancer are declining, the incidences of oropharangeal cancer are on the rise.  In fact, the American Cancer Society estimates that approximately 40,250 people will be diagnosed with oropharangeal cancer in the US this year with approximately 7,850 deaths.  Oropharangeal cancer occurs twice as much in men as in women.  It affects both Caucasians and African- Americans equally, however, recently there has been an increase the HPV related oropharangeal cancer in Caucasian males under 50 years of age.
Oropharangeal cancer, also called throat cancer, is one of the most common of the head and neck cancers and involves the oropharynx.  The oropharynx is located at the back of the mouth and includes the area from your tonsils to the tip of your voice box and the middle of your throat as well as the back of your tongue and the soft palate in the back of your mouth.  Over 90% of oropharyngeal cancers start in the squamous cells.  The squamous cells are the flat cells that make up the membrane that lines your mouth and throat.

Orophangeal cancer risk is greatly reduced by quitting all tobacco products.

Orophangeal cancer risk is greatly reduced by quitting all tobacco products.

There are several factors that can increase your chances of getting oropharangeal cancer including smoking and chewing tobacco and heavy alcohol use.  Though the incidence of oropharangeal cancer caused by those factors has been decreasing the incidence of oropharangeal cancer due to HPV and poor diet have been increasing.
As with any other disease the earlier oropharangeal cancer is detected and diagnosed the better your chances for receiving effective treatment.  Symptoms that you should be aware of especially if you have any risk factors include a lump on one side of your neck that is painless.  Frequently, this lump is the first indication that you can see of oropharangeal cancer.  Unfortunately, the lump also indicates  that the cancer has already spread to the lymph nodes in your neck.  Most people also experience pain on one side of their throat that can be felt in your ear when you swallow.  In many people the cancer is large enough to block the opening to your throat making swallowing difficult and very painful.  In some people their jaw swells and becomes difficult to move, while others experience a change in the sound of their voice and almost all experience unexplained weight loss.
Treatment for oropharangeal cancer depends on what stage it’s in as well as your overall health and personal preference.  When diagnosed in the early stages oropharangeal cancer can usually be cured.  The primary goal of any treatment plan is preserve the function of the surrounding organs, tissues and nerves.  The Dr and medical team must also take into consideration such things as how the treatment might affect your quality of life.  How will you look and feel, will you be able to eat, talk an even breathe?  In most cases your treatment plan will be developed by a multidisciplinary team that will evaluate all aspects of your disease and how it will affect your quality of life.  There are numerous avenues of treatment available to your Dr including surgery, chemotherapy. and radiation therapy.  Your care team will discuss the options that are best for your individual situation.  There are also clinical trials available that your Dr can help you locate.
Though there is no sure way to prevent oropharangeal cancer there are measures that you can do to reduce your chances of developing the disease including stop using all tobacco products and limit alcohol consumption.  Another significant measure you can take is getting the HPV vaccine.  With HPV-related oropharangeal cancer on the rise the vaccine can protect you against cancers related to HPV.  Eating a nutritious diet high in fresh fruit and vegetables and low in saturated fats and regular exercise can boost your immune system reducing your risk on developing many diseases including oropharangeal cancer.

Kimberly Allen is a registered nurse with an AND in nursing. She has worked in ACF, LCF and psychiatric facilities, although she spent most of her career as a home health expert. She is now a regular contributor to, dispensing advice and knowledge about medical issues and questions. You can reach her with any comments or questions at