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Tongue Cancer: Identifying Symptoms, Stages & Treatment

The word ‘cancer’ always sends shivers down our spine. And when it comes to tongue cancer, it’s even more difficult as small things like chewing, eating, breathing, and speaking can turn into difficulties. This cancer can occur anywhere on the tongue, including the sides, front, or back of the tongue. The only possibility to cure it is to identify it early. 

Cancer can pause your life. The earlier it’s identified, the better it is to treat. However, people lack awareness, which makes it worse to detect early. Let’s learn about tongue cancer symptoms, stages, and treatments.

Identifying the Symptoms

  • Early Symptoms 
  1. Having a sore throat that doesn’t get cured even after medication or pain in the mouth, especially on the tongue, like a tickle or burning sensation 
  2. Difficulty in swallowing food or even drinking water, especially when the back side of the tongue or throat is affected
  3. The tongue gets numb, making it difficult to taste or eat food. 
  • Advanced Symptoms 
  1. As cancer grows, it becomes more vigorous, resulting in voice change due to hoarseness or strain.
  2. Lumps in the mouth that are visible in the throat or sides of the cheeks
  3. Drastically weight loss as the person’s diet (whether it’s eating, drinking or swallowing) will be affected, resulting in changes in overall weight.
  4. Vigorous cough as the airway will be disturbed by sores. 
  5. Bleeding of the tongue sores

Stages of Tongue Cancer

There are mainly four stages of tongue cancer, as below:

  • Stage 0- This is the first stage of tongue cancer, also known as carcinoma in Situ. Here, cancer has not spread to other body parts and is present on the tongue’s surface. Cancer cells can be removed via surgery followed by radiation therapy. 
  • Stage 1- Cancer is present on the tongue but looks slightly different and is generally 2 cm large. Since the cancer cells are visible at this stage, they can be removed using surgery and radiation therapy is not required.
  • Stage 2- The cancer is larger than stage 1 and is present on the tongue but has not spread to other body parts. It can be treated by surgery, radiation and chemotherapy are not required.
  • Stage 3- Cancer has spread to lymph nodes and is larger than in stage 2. The cancer cells are removed using surgery. In rare cases, chemotherapy is used. 
  • Stage 4- It is the vigorous stage where cancer has spread to lymph nodes, jaw, bones and nearby tissues. The treatment is performed based on the location and condition of the tumour. Radiation, chemotherapy, or targeted therapy can be used to treat cancer. 

Every stage requires different treatments and prognosis. Therefore, detecting it at an early stage can help cure it without any complex treatment.


Risk Factors

  • Tongue cancer is considered oral cancer and can be caused by several unhealthy daily habits.
  • Tobacco is the most common cause of oral or tongue cancer. Chewing tobacco can increase the risk of tongue cancer
  • Alcohol is another common cause of increased risk. Combined with tobacco, it decreases lifespan.
  • Poor oral hygiene is also a major cause. 
  • Family history can also increase the risk, but maintaining a healthy lifestyle and oral hygiene can reduce the risk. 
  • Tongue cancer is most common in adults over 50, and men are more prone to develop tongue cancer. 
  • High exposure to the sun can also result in tongue cancer.

It’s not necessary that these factors can lead to tongue cancer, but it increases the risk. Taking precautions can help you overcome unwanted health risks. 


  • Surgery- The primary treatment for mild or first-stage cancer is surgery, where the affected cells are removed. 
  • Radiation Therapy- The treatment involves using high-beam rays to kill cancer cells. It involves two types of radiation therapy: internal and external. It can be used as a primary or stand-alone treatment to treat cancer. 
  • Chemotherapy- It uses drugs to kill cancer cells. The therapy is used when the cancer is at a vigorous stage and is spread to other body parts. 
  • Targeted and Immunotherapy- Targeted therapy uses cancer-specific drugs to kill cancer cells. Immunotherapy is used to improve the immune system to fight cancer cells. 

We hope the information has given you a good insight into risk factors and tongue cancer treatment options that can help you be aware of the symptoms to diagnose early and receive treatment on time. Leading a healthy lifestyle and regular follow-ups with your doctor can eliminate the risk of developing tongue cancer.

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