Tonsil Cancer

Understanding the Anatomy

The tonsils are part of the oropharynx, which is the part of the throat located at the back of the mouth. The nasopharynx is located above while the hypopharynx is situated below.

4a throat overview

The tonsils are the ball-shaped structures at the back and on the sides of the throat. They can cause younger people problems such as infections and snoring. They are made up of lymphoid tissue (tissue that has infection-fighting cells). One of the most common surgeries in the U.S. is removal of tonsils when they get large in children and cause recurrent infection or a sleeping disorder known as obstructive sleep apnea. Interestingly, removing the tonsils does not seem to hinder the body’s ability to fight infections (you have many back-up systems to fight infections in the body). In general, each of the tonsils should be about the same size (though in some people they are slightly different in size).


There is a ring of tonsil-like tissue that is located in the side walls and base of tongue portions of the oropharynx. The adenoid tissue, located on the roof of the nasopharynx, completes the superior portion of the tonsillar rings known as the Waldeyer’s ring.

Structures related to the tonsils include:

  • Anterior tonsil pillar: This is the fold of tissue just in front of the tonsil. It is also called the palatoglossus because it goes from the soft palate above down to the tongue.
  • Posterior tonsil pillar: This is the fold of tissue just behind the tonsil. It is also called the palatopharyngeus because it goes from the soft palate above to the pharynx wall on the back.
  • Glossotonsillar sulcus: This is the bottom part of the palatine tonsil where it blends into the lingual tonsil tissue. It is basically an area between the tonsil and the base of tongue.




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