"They ought to be disengaged by the finger and removed," the Roman aristocrat Cornelius Celsus wrote of tonsils in the time of Jesus of Nazareth. If the finger proved ineffective, Celsus recommended lassoing the tonsils and pulling them forward before severing them with a scalpel. And he was not the first. A millennium earlier, the procedure was described in Hindu medical literature—with the prudent caveat that "so much blood may be discharged as will destroy the individual."
By the late 1950s, around 1,400,000 tonsillectomies were performed annually in the United States, often as a precautionary measure to prevent infection. Evidence for the practice did not pan out, and that rate has steadily declined in popularity to a few hundred thousand. Having one's tonsils taken out is not yet back in style, but otolaryngologists at Johns Hopkins University announced some interesting findings today that could make a new case: the first study to look at the association between tonsillectomy and oral cancer.
Because of the sexually transmitted human papillomavirus (HPV), rates of cancer of the palatine and lingual tonsils are increasing. Writing today in the journal Cancer Prevention Research, the Hopkins team led by head-and-neck surgeon Carole Fakhry call the increase "rapid" and partly attributable to "the sexual revolution" on a global scale—people starting younger and having more net partners.