Tonsil cancers are generally classified as a head and neck cancer. It develops in the oropharynx, which encompasses the back third of the tongue to the back wall of the throat. As with many head and neck cancers, it can develop at any age. It typically affects those who are older, but can affect children as well.
Facts About Tonsil Cancers
1. 45,780. That’s the number of adults who will be diagnosed with an oral or oropharyngeal cancer in the next 12 months.
2. Men are diagnosed with tonsil and other oral and oropharyngeal cancers at a 3-1 rate when compared to women.
3. Tonsil cancers are about equally common in African Americans and in Caucasians.
4. White, non-smoking males age 35 to 55 are most at risk of developing a tonsil cancer with a 4 to 1 diagnosis rate over all women.
5. About 8,650 adults are expected to die in the next year because of complications from this disease, again with a 3-1 rate of men compared to women.
6. The five-year survival rate of people with oral or oropharyngeal cancer is 63%.
7. The ten-year survival rate for these cancers is 51%
8. When only early stage diagnosis is tracked in survival rates, then the 5 year survival rate rises to 83%.
9. If the cancer has spread to surrounding tissues or organs and/or the regional lymph nodes, the five-year survival rate is 61%.
10. If the cancer has spread to a distant part of the body, the five-year survival rate is 37%.
11. The death rate for these cancers has been decreasing over the last 30 years.
12. The average age of most people diagnosed with these cancers is 62.
13. Tonsil cancers are rare in children. About 1 in 4 diagnosed cases will occur in patients who are younger than 55.
14. Tonsil cancers are much more common in Hungary and France than in the United States and much less common in Mexico and Japan.
15. The leading cause of oropharyngeal cancer is the presence of HPV. Out of the more than 200 known types of HPV, just 9 are known to cause cancers, and another 6 are suspected of causing cancers.
16. Every day in the US, about 12,000 people ages 15 to 24 are infected with HPV.
17. The amount of time it takes for a person’s immune system to clear an HPV infection: 2 years or less.
18. The most common type of HPV that causes tonsil cancer: HPV16.
19. The number of people who have an HPV infection become a tonsil cancer or other oral malignancy is rising by 10% per year.
The reason why age is a risk factor is because certain lifestyle habits can contribute to the formation of tonsil cancer. The primary risk factor is smoking and regular alcohol consumption. If both are done simultaneously, there is an even higher risk factor of disease development. Many cancers that are discovered today also contain HPV in the cancer cells, which has led researchers to believe that oral sex or mouth-to-mouth contact may also increase a person’s risk.
Most People Who Have HPV Do Not Develop Tonsil Cancer
Tonsil cancers are something that will primarily affect people in their middle ages. Most cases occur above the age of 55. With 15,000 people every day contracting HPV, the age statistics on tonsil cancer seem a little frightening at first glance. In reality, with more than 150 known types of HPV causing benign health issues at best, the chances are very high that no cancer will develop.
The link between oral cancers and HPV cannot be denied, however, and any sexual contact with an HPV positive individual can create the foundation for tonsil cancer at any age. With two vaccines available and approved for young people, parents today have an important choice to make. Should they vaccinate against the high risk versions of HPV and prevent the most common forms of tonsil cancers? The vaccines are approved for adults up to the age of 26 if they haven’t receive the vaccine before, but previous HPV exposure makes the vaccination ineffective.
Just 2.5% of all new cancer cases and 1.4% of cancer deaths will be attributed to tonsil cancers over the coming year. About 1.1% of the general population overall will receive a diagnosis in their lifetime. It is a relatively rare cancer that has good survival rates. If there is a sore throat that won’t go away, ulcers or sores that don’t heal in 2-3 weeks, or an outside lump on the neck that is persistent for 2 weeks or more, then seek help right away. An early diagnosis is your best ticket to long-term survival.