Tongue cancer is a subgroup of head and neck cancer. Cancer develops from the squamous cells of the tongue. This leads to a local tumor growth, and it later spreads. Cancer occurs when cells in the body, in this case, tongue cells, divide without control or order. Normally, cells divide in a regulated manner. If cells keep dividing uncontrollably when new cells are not needed, a mass of tissue forms, called a growth or tumor. The term cancer refers to malignant tumors, which can invade nearby tissues and can spread to other parts of the body. Tongue cancer is often grouped with other mouth cancers, such as cancer of the lips, hard palate, cheek lining, the portion of the mouth underneath the front of the tongue, or gums. These cancers are collectively known as oral cavity cancer.
The exact cause of tongue cancer is unknown. However, the following lifestyle factors may be related: smoking cigarettes, cigars, or a pipe; the Use of chewing tobacco, snuff, or other tobacco products; heavy alcohol consumption. Factors that can increase your chance of developing tongue cancer include male gender, poor oral and dental hygiene, age 40 and over, irritation of the mucous membranes in the mouth due to smoking and drinking, history of mouth ulcers, and/or family history.
Some common symptoms of tongue cancer can include a skin lesion/lump/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, and/or bleeding from the tongue.
To confirm diagnosis, our surgeons will begin by asking 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. Images may need to be taken. This can be done with CT scanning and/or chest x-ray.
When tongue cancer is found, staging tests are done to find out if the cancer has spread. Treatment depends on the stage of the cancer and the size and location of the tumor. One option involves 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. The use of radiation to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors may also be used when the cancer is at the back of the tongue. Chemotherapy is sometimes used with radiation to destroy the cancerous growth, especially if surgery is not planned.
After treatment, your doctor may recommend therapy to improve tongue movement, chewing, and swallowing. Our surgeons may also recommend speech therapy, if use of the tongue is affected, and/or close monitoring of your mouth, throat, esophagus, and lungs to see if the cancer has come back or spread.
To help reduce your chance of getting tongue cancer, take the following steps: Don't smoke or use tobacco products. If you do smoke or use tobacco products, get help to quit. Avoid heavy alcohol consumption. See your doctor regularly for check-ups and cancer screening exams.