Treatment at Mayo Clinic

By Mayo Clinic Staff

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At Mayo Clinic, a team of experienced doctors from several specialties works together with you to develop an individualized treatment plan to provide exactly the care you need.

Treatment for tonsil cancer that hasn't spread beyond the tonsil may include combined radiation therapy and chemotherapy (chemoradiation) or surgery followed by radiation therapy. Advanced tonsil cancers may require a combination surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy.

Surgery

The goal of surgery for tonsil cancer is to remove as much of the cancer as possible. Surgery can be used to manage all stages of tonsil cancer, but it's particularly effective for early-stage cancers. Whether surgery is right for you depends on the size, type, location and depth of the cancer.

Doctors at Mayo Clinic have access to advanced surgical approaches to ensure complete removal of tonsil cancer while preserving function.

Procedures used to treat tonsil cancer include:

  • Transoral surgery. At Mayo Clinic, surgeons remove most tumors through the mouth (transoral surgery). This approach doesn't require lengthy reconstruction and rehabilitation of the throat region after surgery to improve speech and swallowing function. To remove the cancer, doctors may use cutting tools or lasers during surgery.
  • Transoral robotic surgery. Head and neck surgeons offer transoral robotic surgery, which provides more precise access to the cancer. Typically this surgery is safe, effective and enables faster recovery times compared with standard surgical approaches.
  • Open surgery. In certain cases, such as with large cancers or cancers that have spread in the neck, surgeons may use an approach that uses a large incision in the neck to remove the cancer.

Mayo Clinic surgeons work closely with pathologists during surgery to identify tumor boundaries to allow for complete removal of the tumor. If the tumor has spread beyond the tonsils, the surgeon removes nearby lymph nodes.

  • Reconstructive surgery. People with advanced tumors who experience face, jaw or neck disfigurement after tumor removal may need reconstructive surgery. Ear, nose and throat experts and surgeons in plastic and reconstructive surgery work together to restore the appearance of the face, jaw or neck and use of the mouth. Experts in oral and face (maxillofacial) surgery may also be involved.

Radiation therapy

Radiation therapy uses high-powered beams of energy, such as X-rays, to kill cancer cells. Radiation therapy may be an option for early or advanced tonsil cancer.

Mayo Clinic radiation oncologists have access to the most advanced radiation therapy treatment, such as intensity-modulated radiation therapy, which precisely targets radiation to tumor cells and limits radiation exposure to nearby normal tissue.

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy may be used along with radiation therapy to treat locally advanced tonsil cancer. For tonsil cancer that has recurred or has spread to other areas of the body, chemotherapy may be recommended to slow the growth of the cancer.

Rehabilitation

Some people need help to improve their swallowing and speech function during and after tonsil cancer treatment. At Mayo Clinic you have access to a variety of experts to help you cope and recover, including specialists in speech and swallowing, physical therapists, occupational therapists, and dietitians.

If cancer or treatment makes it difficult for you to eat enough to get all the nutrients you need, your doctor may recommend tube feeding (enteral nutrition).

The Nicotine Dependence Center at Mayo Clinic can help people who want to stop using tobacco. Continuing to use tobacco increases your risk of a tonsil cancer recurrence.

Nov. 12, 2014

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