Macmillan cancer support
What is it?
This leaflet is about ‘squamous cell carcinoma’ which is one type of cancer that affects the tongue base (back of tongue) and tonsil – sometimes together, called throat cancer.
This area is known as the oropharynx in medical terms.
Where is the area?
A biopsy is taken to confirm the cancer diagnosis, this may also include a ‘needle test’ sample taken from the glands in the neck if they are enlarged
You will need some scans:
- MRI scan of your head and neck
- CT scan of your chest
You can find more information about these investigations on our website or from your cancer nurse specialist.
Causes of tongue and tonsil cancer
1. Human Papilloma Virus (HPV)
Some tongue and tonsil cancers are related to a virus called Human Papilloma Virus.
4 out of 5 adults have had this virus in their throat and in most people it doesn’t cause any problems. In a small group of people it causes tongue base or tonsil cancer.
If you have a HPV related cancer, you are not infective and do not need to avoid physical or sexual contact with your normal partner.
2. Smoking and drinking alcohol
Tobacco useage (smoking or chewing) and alcohol (more than 14 units a week) are also known to cause tonsil and tongue base cancer. If you have a cancer and you continue to smoke or drink too much alcohol, the chances of cure are much smaller.
When you have had all of your biopsies and scans your case will be discussed with a team of cancer experts in a Multi-Disciplinary Team meeting (MDT). You will then come to a combined clinic appointment with a surgeon and an oncologist (radiotherapy and chemotherapy doctor) to discuss your treatment options.
Treatment options can include:
- Radiotherapy (with or without chemotherapy)
- Combination of surgery and radiotherapy (with or without chemotherapy)
If there is one treatment that has a better chance of cure than the other you will be told of this difference.
You may be offered the option to enter into a clinical trial
These trials are to help us to find out improved ways to treat head and neck cancers
We only enter in trials that we feel are safe for you to be in
If you choose not to be in a trial no-one will mind
Please visit our website for more information or ask your clinical nurse specialists.
South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust would like your feedback. If you wish to share your experience about your care and treatment or on behalf of a patient, please contact The Patient Experience Department who will advise you on how best to do this.
This service is based at The James Cook University Hospital but also covers the Friarage Hospital in Northallerton, our community hospitals and community health services.