What is tonsil cancer?

Tonsil cancer is a type of cancer that grows on the tonsils. Tonsils are the round pieces of tissue that hang in the back of the throat. As part of the body’s immune system, they help fight off illness. People who have had their tonsils removed can still get tonsil cancer in the tissue that is left behind.

What are the symptoms of tonsil cancer?

Symptoms of tonsil cancer may include:

  • Trouble swallowing
  • The feeling that something is stuck in your throat
  • One tonsil that is larger than the other
  • Pain or a lump in the neck
  • Ear pain
  • Bad breath

How is tonsil cancer treated?

Treatment for tonsil cancer may depend on the size and stage of the cancer and whether it has spread to other parts of the body. Options may include one or more of the following:

  • Radiation therapy to kill the cancer cells. It may be used on its own if the cancer is small, or with chemotherapy or surgery.
  • Chemotherapy to help shrink the tumor. It may be used with radiation, or on its own to kill cancer cells that have spread to other parts of the body.
  • Surgery to remove as much of the tumor as possible.

What are the risk factors for tonsil cancer?

Risk factors for tonsil cancer include:

  • Having human papilloma virus (HPV)
  • Using tobacco products
  • Smoking

Departments and Programs Who Treat This Condition


Head and Neck Cancer Program

Our multidisciplinary team brings together experts who collaborate on your unique head and neck cancer care from consultation through treatment and follow-up.