Definition

Tongue cancer is a disease in which cancer cells grow in the squamous cells of the tongue. This leads to a local tumor growth, which can later spread.

Tongue cancer is a subgroup of head and neck cancers, and is often grouped with other types of mouth cancers. These cancers are collectively known as oral cavity cancer.

Cancer of the Tongue

tongue cancer

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Causes

Cancer occurs when cells in the body divide without control or order. Eventually these uncontrolled cells form a growth or tumor. The term cancer refers to malignant growths. These growths can invade nearby tissues including the lymph nodes. Cancer that has invaded the lymph nodes can then spread to other parts of the body.

It is not clear exactly what causes these problems in the cells, but is probably a combination of genetics and environment.

Risk Factors

Throat cancer is most common in men, and in people aged 40 years and older. Other factors that may increase your chance of tongue cancer include:

    
  • Smoking cigarettes, cigars, or a pipe
  • Use of chewing tobacco, snuff, or other tobacco products
  • Heavy alcohol consumption
  • Poor oral and dental hygiene
  • History of mouth ulcers
  • Family history
  • Symptoms

    Tongue cancer may cause:

        
  • Lesion, lump, or ulcer on the tongue
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Mouth sores and mouth pain
  • Numbness or difficulty moving the tongue
  • Change in speech due to inability to move the tongue over the teeth when speaking
  • Pain when chewing and speaking
  • Bleeding from the tongue
  • Diagnosis

    Tongue cancer may be detected by your dentist during a routine dental cleaning, or by your doctor during a routine physical exam.

    To confirm diagnosis, your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. This may include examining your tongue for lumps or masses. A fiberoptic scope may be used.

        
  • Your tongue tissue may need to be tested. This can be done with biopsy.
  • Imaging tests may include:    
  • CT scan
  • X-ray
  • The physical exam, combined with all of your test results, will help to determine the type and stage of cancer you have. Staging is used to guide your treatment plan. Like other cancers, breast cancer is staged from I-IV. Stage I is a very localized cancer, while stage IV indicates a spread to other parts of the body.

    Treatment

    Cancer treatment varies depending on the stage and type of cancer. A combination of therapies may be more effective. For example, surgery may be used in conjunction with chemo- or radiation therapy.

    Surgery

    This is surgical removal of the cancerous tumor and nearby tissue, and possibly nearby lymph nodes. This is often the preferred treatment when the tumor is on the visible side of the tongue, when it is less than 2 cm, and when it is on one side and does not involve the base of the tongue.

    Radiation Therapy

    This is the use of radiation to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. This method is used when the cancer is at the back of the tongue.

    Chemotherapy

    Chemotherapy is sometimes used with radiation to destroy the cancerous growth, especially if surgery is not planned.

    Rehabilitation and Follow-Up

    After treatment, your doctor may recommend:

        
  • Therapy to improve tongue movement, chewing, and swallowing
  • Speech therapy, if use of the tongue is affected
  • Close monitoring of your mouth, throat, esophagus, and lungs to see if the cancer has come back or spread
  • Prevention

    To help reduce your chance of tongue cancer:

        
  • Don't smoke or use tobacco products. If you do smoke or use tobacco products, talk to your doctor about how to quit.
  • Avoid or drink alcohol only in moderation. This means 2 drinks per day for men and 1 drink per day for women.
  • See your doctor regularly for check-ups and cancer screening exams.