Incidence of carcinoma in incidental tonsil asymmetry

M J Syms, D P Birkmire-Peters, M R Holtel
Laryngoscope 2000, 110 (11): 1807-10

OBJECTIVE: To determine the incidence of malignancy in patients with incidentally discovered unilateral tonsillar enlargement with an otherwise normal physical examination.

STUDY DESIGN: A retrospective review of our institution's experience with unilateral tonsillar enlargement.

RESULTS: During a five-year period, 570 patients underwent tonsillectomy at our institution. Of patients undergoing tonsillectomy, 49 patients (8.6%) underwent tonsillectomy with normal mucosa, no lymphadenopathy, and asymmetry of the tonsils. Two (4.8%) of the 49 patients with unilateral enlargement had the presence of malignancy. The two adult patients had B-cell lymphoma. Of all of the patients undergoing tonsillectomy, 0.35% had occult malignancy. In additional, the ability of the clinically assessed size (1+, 2+, 3+, and 4+) to predict volume was evaluated. The clinically assessed size and pathologically measured volume were significantly correlated (R = 0.333, P < .013). In 60.5% of the patients, the clinically assessed size and the pathologically measured volume agreed with the asymmetry reported on physical examination.

CONCLUSION: A relatively high number of tonsillectomies will be performed to yield an approximately 5% positive rate of malignancy within removed tonsils that are asymmetrical with normal mucosa and no cervical adenopathy.

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