Overview of Tumors of the Oropharynx

Cancer of the oropharynx is expected to occur in approximately 4000 individuals per year. It is seen in men five to eight times more often than in women, and typically develops between the ages of 50 and 70. Risk factors for the development of the disease include smoking and alcohol use.

Base of tongue tumors are less frequent than other cancers of the tongue, and pathologically are made up predominantly of squamous cell cancers. These cancers have a high propensity to spread to lymph nodes and can grow in either an exophytic or infiltrating pattern. Presenting symptoms often include pain and difficulty swallowing.

Tumors of the tonsil, tonsillar pillar and soft palate, although anatomically located close to one another, behave quite differently from each other. Tumors of the tonsillar pillar tend to be more superficial and tend to spread over a broad region. By comparison, tonsillar fossa cancers often present with advanced, bulky tumors. Tumors of the soft palate often are less aggressive. Soft palate tumors linger in early stages and remain superficial for longer periods.

Tumors of the pharyngeal walls often are found at advanced stages. Presenting symptoms often include pain, bleeding, weight loss and occasionally a mass in the neck. These tumors have a propensity to spread to lymph nodes of the neck. Bilateral (both sides) involvement is often seen. Pathologically, the majority of these cancers are squamous cell carcinomas.

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 14 Aug 1999

Last Modified: 18 Sep 2015