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Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, and Treatment

Tongue cancer is a type of cancer that develops when abnormal cells on the tongue grow out of control and then form lesions or tumors. Check out an explanation of the symptoms, causes, and treatment in the following review.

Tongue Cancer: Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, and Treatment

What is Tongue Cancer?

This dangerous disease can cause sufferers to have difficulty eating until the mouth is numb. This cancer can develop in two parts of the tongue, namely the front and base of the tongue.

Cancer can occur on the front two-thirds of the tongue or the part of the tongue that is visible when sticking out. In addition, this condition can also develop at the base of the tongue, namely the back third of the tongue which is very close to the throat (pharynx). Cancer in this section is called oropharyngeal cancer or throat cancer.

Tongue Cancer Symptoms

During the early stages—especially at the base of the tongue—you may not feel any symptoms. The most common initial symptom is a sore on the tongue that doesn’t heal, is prone to bleeding, or may feel sore.

The following are other characteristics of tongue cancer, including:

  • Red or white patches on the tongue that don’t go away.
  • Canker sores that don’t heal.
  • Pain when chewing or swallowing.
  • Voice change or difficulty speaking.
  • Continuing sore throat.
  • Mouth numb.
  • Stiff tongue or jaw.
  • Bleeding tongue for no apparent reason.
  • The lump on the tongue does not go away.

These symptoms are similar to those of other oral cancers and it is also possible for people to have some of these symptoms without developing tongue cancer or other types of oral cancer.

When is the Right Time to See a Doctor?

If you feel the signs or symptoms of tongue cancer mentioned above, you should immediately visit a doctor. The earlier doctors can diagnose the disease, the sooner treatment can be started and the better the chances of recovery.

Causes of Tongue Cancer

The main cause of this condition is changes to the genetic material or DNA of the tongue. This causes abnormal cell growth or cancer cells.

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is also known to cause the development of cancer cells on the tongue. In addition, the habit of using tobacco, consuming alcohol, and not caring for the mouth area also increases the risk of tongue cancer.

Tongue Cancer Risk Factors

In general, men aged 50 years and over whose family members have a history of tongue cancer have a higher risk of suffering from the same thing

However, besides that there are several other factors that can increase the risk of this condition, including:

1. Have a Habit of Consuming Alcoholic Beverages

Someone who has a habit of drinking alcoholic beverages has a 15 times higher risk of developing tongue cancer compared to those who don’t consume excessive alcohol.

2. Tobacco Consumption

Tobacco is not only found in cigarettes, but many other products that contain tobacco. All of these products can increase the risk of tongue cancer because tobacco contains cancer-triggering or carcinogenic substances.

3. Not Maintaining the Health of the Oral Cavity

Cancer is often associated with wounds that don’t heal. Therefore, the shape of sharp and uneven teeth can generally cause canker sores or prolonged sores on the tongue, so that the risk of cancer will also increase.

4. Undergoing an Unhealthy Diet

Lack of consumption of fruits and vegetables, as well as having an unhealthy diet can increase the risk of developing tongue cancer.

5. Infection Human Papillomavirus (HPV)

HPV is a group of viruses that can affect the skin or moist membranes in the body, such as the cervix, anus, mouth and throat.

Several types of HPV are known to cause abnormal tissue growth on the tongue, causing tongue cancer.

Tongue Cancer Diagnosis

The first step in diagnosing tongue cancer is knowing the patient’s medical history. The doctor will ask about the complaints that are felt and ask if there are family members who have tongue cancer.

After that, the doctor will examine the patient’s mouth and tongue. If the doctor finds indications of cancer, the patient will be referred to an oncologist for further examination.

When consulting with an oncology specialist, the doctor will take actions in the form of:

1. Biopsy

In this procedure, the doctor will take a small part of the tissue that is suspected of being cancerous. This sample is then taken to the laboratory for examination.

2. Scanning

If the biopsy results show that there are cancer cells, the doctor will do a CT scan or MRI scan to find out the spread of the cancer.

3. HPV test

The doctor will also do an HPV test because this virus is known to be one of the causes of tongue cancer.

Tongue Cancer Stage

Cancer stage to show how far the cancer has spread. Each stage has three potential categories, the following are:

  • Q is the size of the tumor. Small tumors are T1 and large tumors are T4.
  • N is the condition refers to whether the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes of the neck or not. N0 means the cancer has not spread, while N3 means it has spread to many lymph nodes.
  • M is where there is or not cancer that metastasizes / spreads to other organs of the body.

The grade of the cancer refers to how aggressive it is and how likely it is to spread. Cancer stages can have several categories, including:

  • Low (slow growing and unlikely to spread).
  • Currently.
  • High (very aggressive and tends to spread).

Tongue Cancer Treatment

Basically, treatment depends size and stage of cancer. Doctors can do a combination of several types of treatment so that the results are maximized.

Several methods can be used to treat cancer, including:

1. Chemotherapy

This method is done by giving drugs that can kill cancer cells. In addition, chemotherapy can also be useful for reducing cancer symptoms.

In general, doctors will do a combination of chemotherapy with radiotherapy and surgery so that the size of the cancer cells becomes smaller before surgery. The combination of chemotherapy and radiotherapy can kill cancer cells that have spread.

2. Radiotherapy

This cancer treatment is done by using high-energy rays. Radiotherapy is generally used to treat cancer that is difficult to treat, make cancer smaller, and kill cancer cells that have spread to other organs.

3. Operation

This method is effective for people who have cancer at an early stage and the size of the cancer is small. This operation aims to remove cancerous tissue and the area around it.

However, if the cancer has entered an advanced stage, the doctor will cut the tongue and then perform surgery to correct the shape of the tongue so that the patient does not have difficulty eating and speaking.

Tongue Cancer Complications

If you don’t get proper treatment, tongue cancer cells can spread to other organs, such as lymph nodes, lungs, liver and bones.

When undergoing a tongue cancer treatment procedure, the patient may experience side effects in the form of:

1. Difficulty Swallowing (Dysphagia)

If the patient has difficulty swallowing, then therapy is needed to improve the swallowing reflex. This difficulty is generally obtained after undergoing tongue surgery.

2. Difficulty speaking

This difficulty was also encountered after the patient underwent tongue cutting surgery. Therefore, intensive therapy is needed to make the ability to speak back to normal.

3. Emotional Problems

Getting a cancer diagnosis is not easy. The patient may be gloomy and hopeless. These emotional changes can sometimes trigger depression.

Tongue Cancer Prevention

Here’s how to help reduce the risk of tongue cancer, including:

  • Do not smoke or chew tobacco.
  • Avoid alcoholic beverages.
  • Get the HPV vaccine.
  • Practice safe sex.
  • Eat more fruits and vegetables.
  • Brush your teeth 2 times every day and use dental floss regularly.
  • Visit the dentist every 6 months if possible.

Take these steps with discipline to help you stay safe from this potentially fatal disease.

  1. Anonymous. Tongue Cancer. (Accessed 7 February 2023).
  2. Anonymous. What is Tongue Cancer? (Accessed 7 February 2023).
  3. Anonymous. 2022. Complications: Mouth Cancer. (Accessed 7 February 2023).
  4. Cadman, Bethany and Jenna Fletcher. 2023. What Are The Early Signs Of Tongue Cancer? (Accessed 7 February 2023).
  5. Hersh, Erica. 2019. Everything You Need to Know About Tongue Cancer. (Accessed February 7, 2023)

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