Tongue cancer is a type of head and neck cancer. It starts from the cells of the tongue and can cause lesions and tumours on your tongue. Tongue cancer mainly develops from two main parts – the front of the tongue (oral tongue cancer), or the base of the tongue (oropharyngeal cancer).
The most common type of tongue cancer is squamous cell carcinoma (SCC). This type of cancer occurs on the surface of the skin, affecting the squamous cells that cover the lining of the mouth, nose, larynx, throat and thyroid.
Common symptoms of tongue cancer can include a persistent ulcer, patch, spot or lump on your tongue that does not go away. However, there are other symptoms patients should watch out for.
These symptoms include the following:
Research has not yet uncovered the exact cause of tongue and other head and neck cancers. However, doctors have identified various risk factors that can contribute to the development of tongue cancer, which include the following:
During a visit to a head and neck specialist centre, doctors will first analyze your medical history. Next, they will conduct a physical examination of your mouth and lymph nodes to check for signs of cancer like ulcers and swelling.
Should such signs be identified, a biopsy can be done on the suspected tongue cancer area. Incisional biopsy, involving the removal of a small part of the suspected cancer, is usually done in the clinic with the aid of local anaesthesia so there will not be any pain and discomfort.
The cells from the biopsy will be sent to the lab for analysis. Should the patient test positive for tongue cancer, the doctor may choose to conduct an MRI or CT scan to observe how far the cancer has progressed.
Through examining your test and scan results, the doctor can classify the stage of cancer.
Tongue cancer treatment typically involves surgery to remove the cancer. However, depending on the stage of cancer diagnosed, doctors may recommend other treatments like chemotherapy, radiation therapy and targeted drug therapy.
For early-stage tongue cancer (cancer is 4cm or smaller and is contained in the tongue), doctors may recommend having surgery to remove the affected area. Patients may also choose to have surgery to remove lymph nodes in their neck.
For advanced-stage tongue cancer (cancer is larger than 4cm and has spread outside the tongue), doctors may recommend having a combination of surgery, reconstructive surgery and radiotherapy with chemotherapy to remove cancer in multiple areas and treat them from further spread into other parts of the body.
All treatments have their risks. Certain side effects associated with tongue cancer treatments can be temporary, while others may have lasting effects.
Surgery to remove cancer on your tongue can cause problems with your speech and make it difficult for you to eat and drink normally. Most patients will improve over time, but there are some whose effects stay permanent.
Radiotherapy and chemotherapy can cause patients to suffer from a dry and sore mouth. They can also cause patients to feel sick and tired, and suffer from a loss of appetite, weight loss, and an increased vulnerability to bleeding and infections.
At Amandela, we provide subspecialty care that you can trust and rely on throughout your recovery journey. Talk to our leading head and neck doctors to get expert advice and support for cancer treatments today.
Amandela ENT Head & Neck Center Mount Elizabeth Novena
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