Do you know that smoking, chewing betel, or being infected with HPV can increase your chances of developing Tongue Cancer?
Tongue Cancer is a type of cancer that develops in the cells of the tongue and can cause lesions or tumors in the tongue.
Moreover, it is a type of head and neck cancer.
It can develop on the front of the tongue which is referred to as Oral Tongue Cancer.
However, it may also occur at the base of the tongue, where it attacks the bottom of the mouth and is called “oropharyngeal cancer”.
It is important to note that Squamous cell carcinoma is the most common type of tongue cancer it can occur on:
On the surface of your skin, the lining of the mouth, nose, larynx, thyroid, and throat, or in the lining of the respiratory and digestive tract.
Squamous cells cover all these parts of the body.
Let’s learn more about it in detail.
Stages and Grades of Tongue Cancer
Doctors classify tongue cancer using stages and grades. The stages indicate how far cancer has spread in the body.
Moreover, each stage has 3 potential classifications:
- T refers to the size of the tumor and a small tumor is T1 while a large tumor is T4.
- N refers to whether or not cancer has spread to the lymph nodes of the neck. NO means the has not spread, while N3 means that it has spread to a number of lymph nodes.
- M refers to whether or not there are metastases or additional growth in other parts of your body.
The grade of cancer, on the other hand, refers to how aggressive it is and how likely it is to spread.
It can be low or slow-growing and unlikely to spread, moderate to high, or very aggressive and likely to spread.
Tongue Cancer: Signs and Symptoms
During the early stages of tongue cancer, particularly with cancer at the base of your tongue, you might not notice any symptoms.
One of the most common and early symptoms of tongue cancer is a sore on your tongue that does not heal and that bleeds easily.
Moreover, you might also notice mouth or tongue pain.
Other symptoms of tongue cancer are:
A red or white patch on your tongue that does not go away.
Furthermore, bleeding from your tongue with no apparent cause and a lump on your tongue that persists are the symptoms.
Causes and Risks of Developing Tongue Cancer
One of the important things to note here is that there is no apparent cause of tongue cancer.
However, specific behaviors and conditions can increase your risks of developing it.
Some of these are:
Smoking and chewing tobacco, excess drinking, Human papillomavirus or HPV virus are sexually transmitted diseases.
Chewing betel that is most common in south and southeast Asia, has a family history of tongue or mouth cancer, or a personal history of certain types of cancers like other squamous cell cancers.
Moreover, evidence suggests that a poor diet that is low in fruits and vegetables can increase the risk of all types of oral cancer.
Poor oral hygiene or constant irritation from jagged teeth or ill-fitting dentures can increase your risk of tongue cancer.
Furthermore, this cancer is more common in older men than in women or younger individuals.
Diagnosis of Tongue Cancer
At first, your doctor will take your medical history to diagnose tongue cancer.
They will also ask about any family or personal history of cancer, whether you smoke or drink, and how much.
Moreover, if you have even been tested positive for HPV then you should also inform your doctor.
Afterward, they will do a physical exam on your mouth to look for any signs of cancer like an unhead ulcer.
They will also examine your nearby lymph nodes to check whether there is swelling or not.
If your doctor notices any signs of tongue cancer, they will order a biopsy of the area where the suspect is cancer.
An incision biopsy is the most frequent type of biopsy your doctor will order.
During this procedure, your doctor will remove a small piece of suspected cancer and will carry out this procedure under local anesthesia in the office of your docotr.
On the other hand, your doctor may also do a newer type of biopsy: Brush Biopsy.
In this type, they will roll a small brush over the area where they suspect the presence of cancer cells. This can cause minor bleeding and allows your doctor to collect cells for testing.
Cells from either type of the above biopsy will then be sent to the lab for analysis.
Furthermore, if your diagnosis is positive, your doctor may also do a CT scan or MRI to see how deep it goes and how far it has spread.
Treatment options for tongue cancer depend on the size of the tumor and how far it has spread.
You might need only one treatment or you might need a combination of them.
In case of early mouth cancer that has not spread can be treated with a small operation or surgery to remove the affected area.
On the other hand, you will need surgery or partial glossectomy to remove larger tumors.
In this surgery, your surgeon will remove the part of the tongue that has a tumor.
If your doctor removes a large piece of your tongue, you might need to undergo a restriction surgery.
During this surgery, your doctor will take a piece of skin or tissue from another part of the body and use it to rebuild your tongue.
It is important to note that the goal of both surgeries, either glossectomy or restriction is to remove cancer while damaging as little of your mouth as possible.
However, Glossectomy can lead to severe side effects.
These side effects include changes in how you eat, breathe, talk, and swallow.
Speech therapy can help you to learn and adjust to these changes. Additionally, talk therapy can also help you to cope.
If cancer has spread to the lymph nodes, then you will likely need surgery to remove them.
On the other hand, if the large tumor in your tongue or cancer has spread, you will need a combination of both surgery to remove the tumor and radiation.
This helps to make sure that all the tumor cells are removed or killed. However, it can lead to side effects like dry mouth and changes in your taste.
In addition to the above treatment, your doctor may also recommend chemotherapy to treat your cancer along with surgery and/or radiation.
Preventing tongue cancer to develop is not possible, However, if you notice any signs and symptoms of tongue cancer, then you should make an appointment with a doctor as soon as possible,
The earlier your doctor can diagnose, the sooner the treatment can begin and the more favorable the outlook will be.
Certain lifestyle changes can help and minimize the risk of developing tongue cancer.
Some of these are:
Quit smoking and avoid using its by-products because the chemicals in it can increase your risk of developing cancer.
Avoid chewing tobacco and betel as it is one of those items that lead to cancer of the head and neck.
Try and eat a number of different food items, a healthy diet that includes a lot of fruits and vegetables, as a healthy diet protects your body from a number of diseases.
Make sure to practice good oral and dental hygiene.
Moreover, brushing your teeth twice daily and flossing regularly can help.
Regular dental checkups are also important as your dentist can identify any issues or disorders in the early stages, especially in your oral cavity.
It is important to receive a full course of HPV vaccine to avoid contracting this STI.
If you have tongue cancer, then the outlook of your cancer depends on the stage at which your doctor makes a diagnosis and the success of your treatment. According to stats, about 83.7% of the individuals at stage 1 cancer of mouth or pharynx will survive 5 years or more. This is in comparison to 39.1% of those in which cancer has spread.
On the other hand, if cancer has only spread locally i.e. to the lymph nodes in the neck, the survival rate is 63%. With these survival rates, earlier diagnosis often leads to better outcomes, thus, if you have a lump, ulcer, or a tongue sore, that does not go away, then you should visit your doctor. Early diagnosis means more treatment options with fewer side effects and a good 5-year survival rate.