What Are the Symptoms of Oropharyngeal Cancer?

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  • Written By: A. Gamm
  • Edited By: Kaci Lane Hindman
  • Last Modified Date: 12 September 2019
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Oropharyngeal cancer is a cancer that affects the mid-section of the pharynx, which includes the oft pallet, or the back or the mouth, the back of the tongue, the tonsils and the pharynx walls. It mostly affects men over the age of 60, especially those of African descent. It is vital to alert a health care professional if any symptoms of oropharyngeal cancer arise so that a timely treatment may be planned. The most common symptoms include a lump on the throat or at back of the mouth, a persistent sore throat, difficulty swallowing, ear aches and weight loss.

The first symptoms of oropharyngeal cancer are usually a lump on the side of the throat, inside the throat, or inside the mouth, which is typically followed by throat pain. A large lump on the side of the throat may indicate that the cancer has already spread to at least one lymph node. A persistent sore throat is another sign and is usually coupled with coughing. It is normal for pain to be on only one side of the throat — especially when swallowing — and for the pain to also be felt in the ear. This is because the nerve endings in the ear go down the same pathways in the throat, which may cause referred pain.


It is common for a person who suspects he or she may have oropharyngeal cancer to experience difficulty swallowing. This is usually due to the cancer blocking the esophagus or simply pain. If there is a blockage present, another symptom of oropharyngeal cancer may also be a change in voice. The voice may sound more muffled and dull, which doctors commonly call “hot potato.” Other common oropharyngeal cancer signs and symptoms include unexplained and sudden weight loss, Leukoplakia or Erythroplakia, which is white or red spots in the oropharynx. The jaw may also swell or become very difficult to move around. On rare occasions, the teeth may appear to feel loose.

Some of these symptoms are not exclusive signs of oropharyngeal cancer, but may also be related to other serious health condition. As such, most medical professionals highly recommend seeking medical attention when the first symptoms of oropharyngeal cancer appear. Treatment for oropharyngeal cancer is normally dependent on the patient’s age, and more importantly, how advanced the cancer is. Once oropharyngeal cancer has been confirmed, a doctor may present a variety of treatments that are suited for each particular case.


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