Oropharyngeal cancer

Introducing the oropharynx

What is the oropharynx?

The oropharynx is the middle part of the throat, that is directly behind the mouth.

The oropharynx is made up of four parts (see diagram below).

  • sides of the throat, including the tonsils

  • base of the tongue (back third of the tongue), sitting above the voice box

  • soft roof of the mouth (or the soft palate) and the fleshy part of skin hanging from the roof (or the uvula)

  • back wall of the throat (or the posterior pharyngeal wall)

What does the oropharynx do?

The oropharynx has two main jobs: 

  • it allows air to pass from the nose and mouth, through the voice box and windpipe, into the lungs

  • it pushes food and drinks from the mouth, down the food passage to the stomach. The base of the tongue base helps stop food and drinks from entering the voicebox and the lungs.

Introducing the oropharynx and the surrounding areas

diagram of parts of the oropharynx and the surrounding areas