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What Is Oropharyngeal Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC)?

Dr. Julia Crawford is an Australian-trained ears, nose and throat (ENT) surgeon. Her expertise concerns the treatment of head and neck cancers, specifically oropharyngeal cancers. An ‘oropharynx’ cancer is a cancer affecting the tonsils you can see at the back of your mouth, called the palatine tonsils, and also the tonsils at the back of the tongue, all lingaul tonsils. She is one of only a handful of fellowship trained robotic surgeons; Dr Crawford spent two years in America learning how to look after patients with cancers of the tonsil and tongue base. This blog post discusses oropharyngeal cancer, its symptoms and treatment. 

Head and neck cancers comprise 6% of the overall cancer burden or cancer cases diagnosed in Australia annually. Patients diagnosed with oropharyngeal cancers will most commonly present with an enlarged lymph node in their upper neck.


What age groups are affected by oropharyngeal SCC?

Traditionally, head and neck cancers affected an older population with a history of smoking cigarettes but oropharyngeal cancers affect a much younger population, sometimes a young as 35, who have never smoked cigarettes. This shift to a younger subset of non-smoking patients has been caused by Human Papilloma Virus
(HPV). Thankfully, the introduction of the HPV vaccine to the Australian immunisation schedule means that, for further generations, HPV related oropharyngeal carcinoma will be a disease of the past.


What are the symptoms of oropharyngeal cancers?

The first common symptom among sufferers is a lump in their neck. Often. there are no other associated symptoms. If a neck lump is present for more than six weeks, it warrants an investigation by your general practitioner. A biopsy of the neck lump, performed under ultrasound should be arranged.

Other possible symptom are a change in the way a patient swallows or difficulty in swallowing . This can also present as a feeling that there is something obstructing the throat.

Persistent pain, present for >6 weeks, that radiates up to one ear is also a possible symptom of oropharyngeal cancers.


How does a surgical robot help in the  treatment of oropharyngeal cancers?

The surgical robot consists of articulated instruments that can bend around corners to get a good view and access to cancers that affect the tonsil and tongue base. Most patients recover well from this surgery and return to a fairly normal diet within about a month of an operation.

To learn more about oropharyngeal cancers, watch the video above. You may also book a consultation with Dr. Julia Crawford for diseases relating to your nose, throat and snoring.