Tongue cancers are malignant tumors, usually "squamous cell cancers", that can originate on any part of the tongue surface. These cancers are divided into those that arise in the oral tongue; the part of the tongue that resides within the oral cavity, and the 'base of the tongue', the part of the tongue that cannot be easily be seen during a typical oral exam. Tongue cancer is often grouped with other mouth cancers, such as cancer of the lips, hard palate, cheek lining, floor of the mouth (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:
Recently, human papilloma viruses (HPV), the same types that are associated with cervical cancer, have been linked to the development of tongue and tonsil squamous cell cancers. The link is very strong in patients with little or no history of smoking or alcohol abuse. The tumor biopsy can be sent for analysis to determine the presence of HPV; this is important because the presence of HPV may be associated with a much better prognosis.
If you have any of these symptoms do not assume it is due to tongue cancer. These symptoms may be caused by other conditions. Tell your doctor if you have any of these:
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, and perform a physical exam. This may include:
Treatment depends on the stage of the cancer, as well as the size and location of the tumor.
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 quite small (less than 2 cm), and when it is lateralized to one side and does not involve the base of the tongue.
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 is sometimes used with radiation to destroy the cancerous growth, especially if surgery is not planned.
After treatment, your doctor may recommend:
To help reduce your chance of getting tongue cancer, take the following steps:
Learn more about the patient-centered, high-quality approach to cancer care provided to patients diagnosed and treated at Lahey Clinic's Sophia Gordon Cancer Center.