Green Day Guitarist Diagnosed with Cancer of the Tonsil

Green Day lead guitarist, Jason White, has been diagnosed as having cancer in his tonsil. The diagnosis was made when White, 41, underwent what was called a “routine tonsillectomy.”  (Editor’s note: REALLY? Adults don’t routinely get their tonsils taken out- there’s always some sort of reason!)

The announcement was made on their website and said:

We have some news to report regarding our brother Jason White, and wanted you to hear it from us before word spread. Jason recently underwent a routine tonsillectomy, and his doctors discovered a treatable form of tonsil cancer. Thankfully they caught it early and he should make a full and speedy recovery.

Please join us in sending him love and positive healing vibes during this time.

White has been a touring member of Green Day since 1999 playing lead guitar in the majority of their live shows. During late 2012 he became an official member of the band. He is also the guitarist and vocalist for the Californian punk band Pinhead Gunpowder, and co-founder of Adeline Records alongside  band-mate Billie Joe Armstrong.

 What are the tonsils and what do they do?

Tonsils_diagramThe tonsils are a collection of lymphoid tissue which encircles the back of the mouth and throat. It is part of the immune system (similar to lymph nodes) and act as a first line of defense for germs coming in through the mouth.

There are actually 4 groups of tonsils:

1. The palatine tonsils: These are what most people think about when then think about the tonsils. They are the two rounded lumps that protrude from the sides of the throat at the back of the tongue. If they become infected (as happens with strep throat or tonsillitis), they can enlarge, get red and have white patches of pus on them.

2. The adenoids: The adenoids are a less well-defined collection of lymphoid tissue behind the nose.

Tonsils&Throat_Anatomy23. Tubal tonsils: They are located at the back of the throat, near the Eustachian tubes.

4. Lingual tonsils: They are located at the base of the tongue.

Enlarged tonsils without any symptoms are common among kids. Left alone, enlarged tonsils may eventually shrink on their own over the course of several years.

The two most common problems affecting the tonsils and adenoids are:

  • recurrent infections of the nose and throat
  • significant enlargement that can cause nasal obstruction and/or breathing, swallowing, and sleep problems.

What do I need to know about cancer of the tonsil?

Cancer of the tonsil is considered a subset of oropharyngeal cancer- cancer in the middle part of the pharynx, including the soft palate [the back of the mouth], the base of the tongue, and the tonsils.  It is relatively uncommon. Although it can occur in any of the tonsils, it is most common in the palatine tonsils.

Cancer of the tonsil can be of two types: The most common type is a squamous cell carcinoma– meaning it begins in the squamous cells that line the moist, mucosal surfaces inside the head and neck. Cancer of the tonsil can also  be of the Lymphoma type and usually arise from the lymphatic cells which are found in the wall of the tonsil.

Tonsil cancer may have one or more symptoms, including:

  • A sore in the back of the mouth that will not heal
  • Tonsil is larger on one side
  • Blood in the saliva
  • Mouth pain
  • Difficulty chewing, swallowing or speaking
  • Persistent sore throat
  • Intolerance to eating or drinking citrus foods
  • Severe ear pain
  • Lump or pain in the neck
  • Pain when swallowing
  • Bad breath

Despite the increases in cancers as a result of HPV infection, the majority of head and neck cancers are caused by alcohol and tobacco use.This includes the use of smokeless tobacco, sometimes called “chewing tobacco” or “snuff.”

Treatment for cancer of the tonsil can include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or a combination of treatments. Patients who receive radiation to the head and neck may experience redness, irritation, and sores in the mouth; dry mouth or thickened saliva; difficulty in swallowing; changes in taste; or nausea.

Michele R. Berman, M.D. was Clinical Director of The Pediatric Center, a private practice on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. from 1988-2000, and was named Outstanding Washington Physician by Washingtonian Magazine in 1999. She was a medical internet pioneer having established one of the first medical practice websites in 1997. Dr. Berman also authored a monthly column for Washington Parent Magazine.

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