Treatment at Mayo Clinic

By Mayo Clinic Staff


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A team of experienced Mayo Clinic doctors from several specialties work together to develop a treatment plan for you. Treatment for tonsil cancer that has not spread may include radiation therapy and chemotherapy (chemoradiation) or surgery followed by radiation therapy, possibly with chemotherapy. Advanced cancers may require a combination of surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy.


Mayo's advanced surgical approaches preserve the option to use other therapies if more tumors develop after surgery. Surgery can be used to manage all stages of tonsil cancer, but it's favored for more early-stage cancers. The type of procedure performed depends on the size, type, location and depth of the tumor. Very small tumors that have not spread beyond the tonsil may be treated with surgery alone. Types of surgery include:

  • Transoral surgery. At Mayo Clinic, surgeons remove most tumors through the mouth (transoral surgery). This approach does not require lengthy reconstruction and rehabilitation of the throat region after surgery to improve speech and swallowing function.
  • Transoral robotic surgery. Head and neck surgeons offer transoral robotic surgery, which provides more precise access to the tumors. Typically this surgery is safe, effective and enables faster recovery times compared with standard surgical approaches.
  • External neck incision. Large tumors or tumors that have spread in the neck may be removed through an external neck incision. Mayo 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 (ENT) 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. At Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, experts in oral, jaw and face (maxillofacial) surgery may be involved.

Radiation therapy

Radiation therapy may be an option for early or advanced tonsil cancer. At Mayo Clinic you 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.


To treat advanced tonsil cancer, your Mayo Clinic medical oncologist may recommend chemotherapy treatment. Chemotherapy can be a part of the initial treatment of locally advanced, but curable tonsil cancer in combination with radiation therapy, or for tonsil cancer that has recurred or spread to distant sites and is no longer curable.


Some people may need treatment to improve their swallowing and speech function after major surgery. Mayo offers help from speech, swallowing, physical and occupational therapists, and dietitians.

The Nicotine Dependence Center at Mayo Clinic in Minnesota can help people who want to stop using tobacco. Heavy use of tobacco may increase the risk of developing tonsil cancer or having a recurrence of a previously treated tonsil cancer.

Jun. 27, 2013

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