Tongue cancer usually develops in the squamous cells on the surface of the tongue. The most visible sign of tongue cancer are a sore on the tongue that does not heal.
This form or oral cancer or mouth cancer can develop in two different parts of the tongue. Tongue cancer can grow at the front of the tongue. But if the cancer grows at the back of the tongue, it is known as oropharyngeal cancer.
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Symptoms of oral cancer can include:
- sores and mouth ulcers that will not heal
- red or red and white patches that appear on the lining of the mouth or the tongue
- a sore throat
- pain when swallowing
- a feeling that there is something wedged in the throat
- a painful tongue
- a hoarse voice
- difficulty moving the jaw or tongue
- neck pain or ear pain
- loose teeth
- swelling in the area that remains for more than three 3 weeks
- a lump in the mouth
- thickening of the lining of the mouth
Many of the early signs of mouth cancers can be hard to identify, so people may not notice any early warning signs or symptoms when the cancer starts developing.
Those who smoke or drink excessively are more at risk of mouth cancer. They should also schedule regular appointments with a doctor or dentist who can examine their mouth for any issues.
Symptoms of Tongue Cancer
The most common type of tongue cancer is called squamous cell carcinoma. Squamous cells that are flat and thin are present on the surface of the skin and the tongue, in the lining of the digestive and respiratory tracts, and in the lining of the mouth, throat, larynx, and thyroid.
The primary symptoms of tongue cancer are a painful tongue and the development of a sore on the tongue. Additional symptoms may include:
- pain in the jaw or throat
- pain when swallowing
- feeling as though something is catching in the throat
- a stiff tongue or jaw
- problems swallowing or chewing food
- a red or white patch forming on the lining of the mouth or tongue
- a tongue ulcer that will not heal
- numbness in the mouth
- bleeding from the tongue without reason
- a lump on the tongue that does not go away
The symptoms of tongue cancer are similar to those of other oral cancers, and they may also not be apparent in the early stages of the disease. It is also possible for someone to have some of these symptoms without having tongue cancer or another type of oral cancer.
Stages of Tongue Cancer
Tongue cancer is classified according to how much cancer is present and whether or not it has spread, or metastasized, to other parts of the body.
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The classification system uses letters and numbers. The letter T indicates a tumor, and the letter N refers to neck lymph nodes. These letters each have a grading from 1–4 or 0–3 respectively. People with a T1 tumor have the smallest grade of tumor, while people with a T4 tumor have the largest grade.
An N0 classification signifies that the tongue cancer has not spread to any neck lymph nodes. Tongue cancer that has spread to a significant number of lymph nodes has an N3 classification.
It is also possible to grade tongue cancer in the following ways:
- low grade
- high grade
This grading represents how aggressively the cancer is growing and how likely it is to spread to other parts of the body.
Causes of Tongue Cancer
Experts are yet to understand why some people get tongue cancer. However, specific risk factors can increase a person’s likelihood of developing this disease.
Known risk factors include:
- smoking or chewing tobacco
- consuming alcohol in excess
- eating a diet low in fruit and vegetables and high in red meat or processed foods
- having a human papillomavirus(HPV) infection
- having a family history of tongue or mouth cancers
- having had previous cancers, particularly other squamous cell cancers
Tongue cancers are most common in those aged 50 or above and older men are more likely to develop tongue cancer.
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Additional risk factors include:
- gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
- betel chewing, a common habit in Southeast Asia
- exposure to particular chemicals, including sulfuric acid and formaldehyde
- poor oral hygiene or other factors affecting the mouth
How is it diagnosed?
At the appointment, the doctor is likely to ask about any relevant medical history, including family medical history. Also, the doctor may likely examine the tongue and mouth. The doctor may equally examining the lymph nodes to see if there is any enlargement.
If a doctor suspects that tongue cancer is present, they will perform a biopsy. This will involve them removing some tissue for testing in a lab.
If the biopsy results confirm cancer, a doctor may recommend a CT scan or MRI scan, which will show whether or not cancer has spread to other parts of the body.
Can Tongue Cancer Be Cured?
It is possible to cure tongue cancer, and the stance is better for people who get an early diagnosis. People who have cancer that has not spread have a higher rate of survival.
It is not possible to prevent tongue cancer from developing. But if people notice any of the signs or symptoms of tongue cancer they should make immediate appointment with their doctor. The earlier a doctor can diagnose the disease, the sooner treatment can begin and the more favorable the outlook.
There are also lifestyle factors that people can control to minimize their risk of developing tongue cancer. These include:
- avoiding chewing tobacco products or betel
- quit smoking
- quit alcohol
- practice safe sex and use a dental dam for oral sex
- eat healthful diet that includes lots of fruit and vegetables
- practice good dental hygiene by brushing and flossing regularly
- receive a full course of the HPV vaccine
Treatment for Tongue Cancer
Surgery is normally performed to remove the cancerous tissue. Surgeons can remove smaller tumors in a single operation.
If larger tumors are present or if the cancer has spread, complicated operations may be necessary. The surgeon may also need to remove part of the tongue. If this is the case, they will try to restructure the tongue using skin or tissue from other parts of the body.
Surgery that involves the removal of part or all of the tongue is called a glossectomy. Although doctors will attempt to reduce the damage to the mouth during the procedure, some side effects are unavoidable. Glossectomy can affect breathing, speaking, eating, and swallowing
In some cases, radiation or chemotherapy treatment may be required to kill any cancerous cells that remain.