oropharyngeal Cancer 



What do we mean by 'Oropharyngeal Cancer'? It is a type of Throat Cancer that your doctor might call by the part it has grown in, like tonsil or tongue base cancer. If it's not the cancer type you're looking for, please explore the information about other types of Throat Cancers or other types of Head and Neck Cancers.

All the information in this section is available in a PDF.
Download it here.

1. Symptoms & signs of Oropharyngeal Cancer

The signs and symptoms of Oropharyngeal Cancer depend on where the cancer is, its size and how far it has spread in the body. Oropharyngeal Cancer can show up in different ways.  Common signs and symptoms may include:

  • a sore throat that doesn’t go away

  • a sore (like an ulcer) in the throat

  • a lump in the throat

  • a lump in the neck (this is common and may be the only sign in many people)

  • trouble swallowing food, or moving the tongue

  • trouble opening the mouth

  • trouble breathing

  • noisy breathing

  • ear pain

  • ​coughing up blood

  • voice change 

  • unexplained weight loss. 

Most often these symptoms are not from Oropharyngeal Cancer. However, if you have any of these symptoms for more than a few weeks, talk to your doctor as early as possible. They may be able to help diagnose  and treat you. 

2. What are the tests for Oropharyngeal Cancer

It is important that your doctor establishes the diagnosis of Oropharyngeal Cancer, assesses the size of the cancer and whether it has spread to the lymph nodes in the neck or elsewhere in the body. To answer these questions your doctor will need to do the following things:

  • talk with you about your medical history. This includes signs you may have noticed, any other health conditions, medications that you are taking, and whether you smoke or drink alcohol 

  • perform a physical examination by feeling and looking inside your throat and neck

  • order diagnostic tests, which may include scans.

Not everyone will need to have every test for Oropharyngeal Cancer. Your doctor will recommend tests that are right for you. 

The most common tests for Oropharyngeal Cancer are:


Your doctor will look inside your nose and throat using a very thin flexible tube with a tiny light and camera on it (called an endoscope). This can be done in an office or clinic.


This involves taking a piece of tissue (sample) either from the throat or from a lymph node in the neck, if it appears to be involved by the cancer. A pathologist then looks at the sample under a microscope to check for cancer cells. This is often the only sure way to tell if you have cancer. If the suspicious area can be safely accessed through the mouth, your doctor may take a sample for biopsy in the office. However, this is often not possible because the cancer may be too far back and some patients need to be asleep under a general anaesthetic for the biopsy. This is usually done as a day procedure. 

Your doctor may order one of two types of biopsies of the lymph nodes in your neck. Both are usually done using an ultrasound scan to make sure the needle is in the right spot.

  • Needle biopsy (Fine Needle Aspiration or FNA) is used when there is a lump (enlarged lymph node) in the neck that could have cancer cells in it. During the procedure, your doctor will take some cells from the lump using a needle. It may feel a bit uncomfortable during the biopsy.

  • Core biopsy uses a bigger needle to get more cells for the biopsy. This is more uncomfortable than needle biopsy so doctors only use this if it is really needed.


This uses X-rays to take pictures of the inside of the body. If a person has cancer, a CT scan can help the doctor to see where it is, measure how big it is, and if it has spread into nearby organs or other parts of your body.


This uses magnetic fields, to take pictures of the inside of the body. This helps your doctor see how far a cancer has grown into the tissue around it. Not all people with oropharyngeal cancer need a MRI scan. 


This is a whole body scan that uses a radioactive form of sugar which can show if the oropharyngeal cancer has spread to the lymph nodes or elsewhere in the body.


All the information in this section is available in a PDF.
Download it here.
  • What is Oropharyngeal Cancer?
  • What is the oropharynx?
  • What does the oropharynx do?
  • What causes Oropharyngeal Cancer?
  • Human Papilloma Virus
  • Signs and Symptoms of Oropharyngeal Cancer
  • Tests for Oropharyngeal Cancer
  • Treatment options for Oropharyngeal Cancer
  • Surgery 
  • Radiation Therapy
  • Chemotherapy
  1. Head and Neck Cancer Australia Resources 
  2. External Links to other Head and Neck Cancer Resources