All You Need to Know About Tongue Cancer

All You Need to Know About Tongue Cancer

All You Need to Know About Tongue Cancer

Tongue cancer is one of several kinds of oral cancer and is most common in people over 40 years old. Like any other cancer, tongue cancer happens when the cells divide out of control and form a tumor. It’s a kind of head and neck cancer. Symptoms such as patch, spot, or lump in the tongue happen. Tongue cancer can occur in two areas:

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Mouth (Oral Tongue Cancer)

Cancer that occurs here can easily be felt and seen in the mouth. This tongue cancer can be diagnosed when the cancer is still small and can be removed by surgery.

Throat (Oropharyngeal Tongue Cancer)

Tongue cancer may also develop at the base of the tongue that connects to the throat. Cancer in this area tends to be diagnosed after cancer has spread to the tongue lymph nodes, and the tumor is more extensive. 

Causes of Tongue Cancer

Cancer of the tongue occurs when the cells grow and develop without control. The exact cause of tongue cancer is still unknown. A combination of hereditary factors, lifestyle, and environment probably play a role in developing this cancer.

Risk Factors of Tongue Cancer

Tongue cancer can happen at any age, but it’s rare for people who are below 40 years old. The development of tongue cancer is also more common in men than women. Aside from this, few more factors may increase the chances of having tongue cancer. It includes the following:

Excessive Usage of Tobacco

People who smoke cigarettes excessively have a higher risk of developing cancer. This encompasses cancer of the tongue, mouth, and lungs. Repeated irritation of these areas will trigger the signs of cancer.

Alcohol Abuse

Heavy drinkers are also at risk of having tongue cancer because alcohol dehydrates the cell walls of oral tissues that make carcinogens penetrate the tissues easily, resulting in cancer development.

HPV (Human Papillomavirus)

This virus is sexually transmitted through oral sex. HPV causes cancer on the base of the tongue and can also affect the genital area, and cause other cancer such as cervical, penile, and anal cancer.


Inheriting faulty cancer genes can also be the cause of tongue cancer. If one of the family members had tongue cancer, the inherited gene faults would increase cancer risk.

Poor Oral Hygiene

Untreated dental issues will put people at risk of developing severe health issues such as tongue cancer. It’s recommended to visit the dentist at least once every six months.

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Symptoms of Tongue Cancer

In the early stage of developing tongue cancer, the symptoms are not noticeable. One of the most common early symptoms is a sore on the tongue that doesn’t heal and easily bleeds. 

Here are the few other tongue cancer symptoms :

  • Difficulty in talking
  • Tongue pain
  • Sore throat
  • Difficulty in chewing and swallowing
  • Red or white patches in the tongue
  • Lump formation in your tongue

Tongue Cancer Types

Cancer types are identified to know the best treatment for it. They are as follows:

Squamous Cell Carcinoma

Squamous Cell Cancer (SCC) is the second of the most common forms of skin cancer that starts from abnormal cells on the skin’s surface layers, such as lips or the lining of the mouth. This type of tongue cancer is generally a slow-growing tumor, and during the initial period, the condition does not show any signs or symptoms.

Carcinoma in Situ 

Carcinoma in Situ is the early stage of squamous cell carcinoma wherein the cancerous cells on lips or the mouth lining are present but haven’t invaded the outermost layer of tissue.

Verrucous Carcinoma

Verrucous Carcinoma is a type of squamous cell carcinoma with a slow growth pattern and less likely to spread in lymph nodes.

Salivary Gland Cancers

Minor salivary glands can be found under the lining of the mouth. Cancer in this part can be glandular malignancies that are rare. They are referred to as adenocarcinomas, together with adenoid cystic carcinomas and mucoepidermoid carcinomas.


Lymphoid cells can also be seen under the surface of the mouth. This is why lymphoma can appear as a lump in the mouth in some rare cases.

Mucosal Melanoma

In rare cases, mucosal melanoma can be found in the lining of the mouth, nose, and throat. This type of cancer comes from melanocytes or skin cells.

Grades and Stages of Tongue Cancer

The grade of the cancer is usually determined after the tumor has been removed. The cells can be graded by comparing the healthy-looking tissue with cancer tissue. 

The grading is described as:

  • GX. The grade is not possible to evaluate.
  • G1. The cells look like normal tissue and well-differentiated.
  • G2. The cells are moderately differentiated.
  • G3 and G4. The cells don’t look like normal tissue and are badly differentiated.

The TNM system determines the staging of cancer:

  • T – Tumor Size
  • N – Lymph Node Involvement
  • M – Distant Metastases

Stage 1 Tongue Cancer

The tumor size is around an inch and has not yet spread.

Stage 2 Tongue Cancer

The tumor size is greater than an inch and continues to grow.

Stage 3 Tongue Cancer

The tumor +

-size is already two inches and spreading.

Stage 4 Tongue Cancer

The tumor size is continuously growing and has affected the mouth, lips, and spreading throughout the body.

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Tongue Cancer Prognosis

A relative survival rate is used to compare people with the same type and stage of cancer in the general population. The five-year relative survival rate of distant tongue cancer is 40%, while the survival rate of local cancer of the tongue is 82%. These survival rates exhibit that early diagnosis of cancer leads to a better outcome. 

Possible Tongue Cancer Metastasis

One deadly aspect of cancer is the ability to spread throughout the human body. When a cancer cell is metastasizing, it breaks away from the tumor and invades the circulatory or lymph system to carry it to new parts and plant itself there. The cancer of the tongue usually spreads into lymph nodes in the neck, head, and other parts of the body.

How to Treat Tongue Cancer

Treatment for cancer of the tongue usually involves surgery to remove cancer. The treatment depends on how big the tumor and how much cancer has spread. It usually involves surgery to remove cancer.

Early Stage

In the early stage of tongue cancer, it’s still small and contained in the tongue. That’s why removing the affected area is the most common treatment. Lymph node removal in the neck can also be an option depending on the cancer.

Advanced Stage

In the advanced stage of tongue cancer, cancer has spread outside the tongue, and the tumor might be massive, already invading other tissues. A combination of treatments are considered, and this includes:

  • Surgery

Glossectomy is considered if there are large tumors wherein the tongue or a part of it will be removed. If the doctors remove a large piece of the tongue, reconstruction surgery will be the next step. In this surgery, the doctor will take a piece of skin or tissue from other parts of your body to rebuild the tongue. Removing cancer completely while considering the low damage in the mouth is the goal of these surgeries.

  • Chemotherapy

Chemo is a treatment using anti-cancer drugs that will kill cancer cells. It is usually used along with radiation therapy. Chemotherapy can be injected in a vein or taken orally that will allow them to enter the blood and reach other parts of the body.

  • Radiotherapy

Radiotherapy is typically used for different types of cancer. It uses high-power energy to kill cancer cells. Internal radiotherapy is mainly used in tongue cancer. This kind of internal treatment is an excellent way to lessen radiation exposure to other parts of the body. 

How to Prevent Tongue Cancer

Cancer prevention is an action taken to lower the chance of developing cancer. People can reduce the risk of tongue cancer by avoiding activities that can lead to it and by attentively taking care of their mouth. Consider these following tips to prevent tongue cancer : 

  • Stop smoking
  • Have a healthy lifestyle
  • Avoid risky behaviors
  • Visit the dentist regularly

If you know any loved one who has already been diagnosed with tongue cancer, feel free to reach out to All American Hospice, and we will gladly help you. Our professionals can offer the best support and care for your loved ones. 

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