Tongue cancer is a type of cancer that begins in the cells of the tongue and may cause lesions or tumors in your tongue. If this condition occurs in the front of the tongue, then it is called ‘oral tongue cancer’. If this occurs at the base of the tongue, then it is termed oropharyngeal cancer.
If your tongue cancer is advanced, it might even impact your ability to speak and eat. However, you can work with a skilled rehabilitation team, to deal with any changes that result from tongue cancer treatment.
In the early stages of tongue cancer, especially with cancer at the base of the tongue, there might not be any symptoms. The most common early symptom of tongue cancer is a sore on your tongue, that doesn’t heal and that easily bleeds.
Sometimes there might be mouth and tongue pain as well.
Some other symptoms of tongue cancer include:
- A red or white patch on your tongue which continues to persist
- A tongue ulcer that persists
- Pain while swallowing
- Numbness in the mouth
- A sore throat that persists
- Bleeding from the tongue without any cause
- Lump on your tongue that continues to persist
What exactly causes tongue cancer is unknown. Certain behaviors and conditions may however increase your risk, including:
- Smoking or chewing tobacco
- Heavy drinking
- Chewing betel
- Infection with the HPV virus
- Having a family history of tongue or other mouth cancers
- Having a personal history of certain cancers, such as other squamous cell cancers
- Poor oral hygiene or constant irrigation from jagged teeth or ill-fitting dentures may also increase your risk of tongue cancer.
- The condition is also more common among older men, as compared to women or younger people.
If you are concerned that you might be having tongue cancer, then you need to make an appointment with your doctor, as soon as possible.
At the appointment, your doctor is going to ask about any relevant medical history, which includes your family medical history, examining your tongue and mouth, examining the lymph nodes in order to check for any enlargements.
If your doctor suspects that any tongue cancer is present, then he/she is going to perform a biopsy. A biopsy includes removing some tissue and sending it off for testing.
Treatment for tongue cancer is going to depend on the size of your tumor, and how far your cancer has spread. Sometimes you may need one treatment or a combination of treatments.
Early mouth cancer which hasn’t spread can generally be treated with a small operation to remove the affected area. Larger tumors might need surgery for removal. This surgery is known as partial glossectomy, in which a part of a tongue is removed.
If a large piece of your tongue is removed, you might need to undergo reconstruction surgery. In this surgery, a doctor is going to remove a piece of skin or tissue from another body part, and use it to rebuild your tongue.
It is to be noted that glossectomy might lead to some side effects, such as changes in how you eat, breathe, talk, and swallow. Speech therapy is able to help you learn to adjust to these changes.
If your cancer has spread to the lymph nodes, it is likely that they are going to require removal as well, with surgery.
If you have a large tumor in the tongue, or if cancer has spread, then you might need a combination of surgery and radiation. However, this can have certain side effects. Your doctor might also recommend chemotherapy, in order to treat your cancer, in combination with radiation therapy or surgery.