Significance of asymptomatic tonsil asymmetry

Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2004 Jul;131(1):101-3. doi: 10.1016/j.otohns.2004.02.004.


Objective: Asymmetry of tonsils that arouses suspicion for malignancy is one of the indications for tonsillectomy. The purpose of this study was to evaluate the incidence of occult malignancy in patients with asymptomatic unilateral tonsillar enlargement. Study design and setting A prospective controlled trial was carried out in two institutions, Beyoglu Research and Training Hospital and Karaelmas University Hospital, during a 6-year period. Of patients selected for tonsillectomy, patients with unilateral tonsillar enlargement were identified and were included in this study. Patients who had risk factors that were significant for malignancy were excluded. After excision, two tonsil specimens were measured before sending for histology. Matched controls with symmetric tonsils underwent the same procedures. Preoperative diagnosis of tonsil asymmetry with the postoperative histologic diagnosis were correlated for the incidence of malignancy.

Results: Of the 792 patients undergoing tonsillectomy, 53 patients (6.69%) with asymmetry of tonsils and who had no other risk factors for malignancy underwent tonsillectomy. The size difference of the tonsils ranged from 0 to 19 mm. In the control group of 51 patients with symmetric tonsils, the size difference ranged from 0 to 8 mm. The analysis showed statistically significant difference in the degree of asymmetry between the two groups (P <.001). Most of the specimens contained reactive lymphoid hyperplasia in both groups (58.49% and 54.9%, respectively). No malignancies or unusual pathological findings were encountered on histologic examination in either group. Conclusion and significance Tonsil asymmetry may only be apparent in patients with an otherwise normal physical examination, secondary to benign hyperplasia or anatomical factors. Therefore, the presence of tonsil asymmetry without factors such as suspicious appearance, significant systemic signs and symptoms, progressive enlargement of the tonsil, concomitant neck adenopathies, and history of malignancy or immunocompromise, may not indicate malignancy, as a sole clinical feature.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Controlled Clinical Trial
  • Multicenter Study

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / diagnosis*
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / epidemiology
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / pathology
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Male
  • Palatine Tonsil / anatomy & histology
  • Physical Examination / methods
  • Prospective Studies
  • Tonsillar Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Tonsillar Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Tonsillar Neoplasms / pathology