The pharynx is a hollow tube about 5 inches long that starts
behind the nose and ends where the trachea
(windpipe) and esophagus
(tube from the throat to
the stomach) begin. Air and food pass
through the pharynx on the way to the trachea or the esophagus.
Smoking or being infected with human papillomavirus can increase the risk
of oropharyngeal cancer.
Anything that increases your risk of getting a disease is called a risk factor. Having a risk factor does not mean that you will
; not having risk factors doesn't mean that you will
not get cancer. Talk with your doctor if you think you may be at risk.
The most common risk factors for oropharyngeal cancer include the following:
Sometimes oropharyngeal cancer does not cause early signs or symptoms.
Tests that examine the mouth and throat are used to help detect
(find), diagnose, and stage oropharyngeal cancer.
The following tests and procedures may be used:
and history: An exam of the body to check general signs of health, including checking for signs of disease, such as swollen lymph
in the neck or anything else that seems unusual. The medical doctor or dentist
does a complete exam of the mouth and neck and looks down the throat with a small,
long-handled mirror to check for abnormal
areas. A history of the patient’s health habits and past illnesses and treatments will also be taken.
PET-CT scan: A procedure that combines the pictures from a positron emission tomography
(PET) scan and a computed tomography
(CT) scan. The PET and CT scans are done at the same time with the same machine. The combined scans give more detailed pictures of areas inside the body than either scan gives by itself. A PET-CT scan may be used to help diagnose
disease, such as cancer, plan treatment, or find out how well treatment is working.
(CAT scan): A procedure that makes a series of detailed pictures of areas inside the body, taken from different angles. The pictures are made by a computer linked to an x-ray
machine. A dye is injected
into a vein
or swallowed to help the organs
show up more clearly. This procedure is also called computed tomography, computerized tomography, or computerized axial tomography.
(positron emission tomography scan): A procedure to find malignanttumor
cells in the body. A small amount of radioactiveglucose
(sugar) is injected into a vein. The PET scanner
rotates around the body and makes a picture of where glucose is being used in the body. Malignant tumor cells show up brighter in the picture because they are more active and take up more glucose than normal cells do.
(magnetic resonance imaging): A procedure that uses a magnet, radio waves, and a computer to make a series of detailed pictures of areas inside the body. This procedure is also called nuclear magnetic resonance imaging (NMRI).
The following procedures may be used to remove samples of cells or tissue:
Endoscopy: A procedure to look at organs and tissues inside the body to check for abnormal areas. An endoscope
is inserted through an incision
(cut) in the skin or opening in the body, such as the mouth or nose. An endoscope is a thin, tube-like instrument with a light and a lens
for viewing. It may also have a tool to remove abnormal tissue or lymph node samples, which are checked under a microscope for signs of disease. The nose, throat, back of the tongue, esophagus, stomach, voice box, windpipe, and large airways will be checked. The type of endoscopy is named for the part of the body that is being examined. For example, pharyngoscopy is an exam to check the pharynx.
Laryngoscopy: A procedure in which the doctor checks the larynx
(voice box) with a mirror or with a laryngoscope.
A laryngoscope is a thin, tube-like instrument with a light and a lens for viewing.
brush exam: A procedure in which the medical doctor or dentist
uses a small brush to remove cells that may be cancer. The cells are checked under a microscope for signs of disease.
If cancer is found, the following test may be done to study the cancer cells:
HPV test: A laboratory test
used to check the sample of tissue for certain types of HPV infection. This test is done because oropharyngeal cancer can be caused by the HPV virus.
Certain factors affect prognosis (chance
of recovery) and treatment options.