Oropharyngeal cancer

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Cancerous tumours of the oropharynx

A cancerous tumour of the oropharynx can grow into and destroy nearby tissue. It can also spread (metastasize) to other parts of the body. Cancerous tumours are also called malignant tumours. The most common type of oropharyngeal cancer is squamous cell carcinoma (SCC). It accounts for more than 90% of cancers of the oropharynx.

Squamous cell carcinoma

Squamous cell carcinoma starts in flat, thin cells called squamous cells. A layer of these cells (called the squamous epithelium) lines the oropharynx. Carcinoma of the tonsil is the most common type ofsquamous cell carcinoma of the oropharynx.

Verrucous carcinoma is a type of SCC. It is low grade and rarely spreads to other parts of the body but can grow deep into nearby tissue.

Rare oropharyngeal tumours

The following cancerous tumours of the oropharynx are rare.

Minor salivary gland tumours start in the cells of the minor salivary glands. These are tiny glands in the lining of the oropharynx. Types of minor salivary gland tumours include adenocarcinoma, adenoid cystic carcinoma and mucoepidermoid carcinoma. Find out more about cancerous tumours of the salivary glands.

Sarcoma starts in the cells of the connective tissue (cartilage). Types of sarcoma of the oropharynx include chondrosarcoma and synovial sarcoma. Find out more about types of soft tissue sarcoma.

Melanoma usually starts in the skin but can start on the inner mucous surfaces of the body including in the oropharynx. Find out more about melanoma.

Non-Hodgkin lymphoma starts in lymphocytes. Lymphocytes are a type of white blood cell. Lymphomas can develop in the lymphatic tissue of the oropharynx, such as the base of the tongue or the tonsils. Find out more about non-Hodgkin lymphoma.