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What Is Tongue Cancer: Causes, Diagnosis, and Treatment?

Cancer is one of the most common diseases that people suffer from today. Out of the several types of cancer, tongue cancer also affects several people. Get an insight into what tongue cancer is, its causes, diagnosis and treatment procedures accessible at the best cancer hospitals

What Is Tongue Cancer?

When abnormal cells and tissues begin to divide and grow in an uncontrolled way in the tongue, it is called tongue cancer. Patients can find a persistent lump, spot, tumour or lesion on the tongue area that does not go away. Tongue cancer comes under the category of head and neck cancer.

Types of Tongue Cancer

Tongue cancer is also called oral cancer. There are two kinds of tongue cancers:

  • Cancer at Tongue Base – This type of cancer happens at the bottom 33% of the tongue, which is at the base of the tongue. The base of the tongue starts from the throat of the person. You cannot stick out this part of the tongue. This type of tongue cancer is known as oropharyngeal cancer. It can also spread to the lymph nodes and other areas of the neck.
  • Cancer at Oral Tongue – This type of tongue cancer affects the remaining 66% of the tongue, which is on the front side. You can stick out this part of the tongue. It is known as oral tongue cancer.

The most commonly occurring tongue cancer is squamous cell carcinoma, which can occur in:

  • The lining of the digestive & respiratory tract
  • The lining of the throat, thyroid, larynx, nose & mouth
  • Skin surface

Causes of Tongue Cancer

Listed below are the risk factors that can cause tongue cancer.

  • Age – The risk of tongue cancer is more in older people, especially in those who are more than 40 years old. But it does not mean that young people don’t get tongue cancer.
  • Male – Tongue cancer is more common among males than females. It has been found that men have double the chances of getting tongue cancer than women.
  • Ethnicity – It has been discovered that some ethnicity is more prone to tongue cancer such as African-American people.
  • Human Papillomavirus (HPV) – HPV is a sexually transmitted disease, which can cause tongue cancer. There are two types of viruses known to increase the tongue cancer risk (HPV 18 & HPV 16).
  • Smoking Cigarette or Chewing Tobacco/Betel – The chance of a smoker getting tongue cancer is five times more than that of non-smokers.
  • Heavy Alcohol Consumption – If you are drinking too much alcohol without any moderation, then there is a high risk of getting tongue cancer.
  • Hereditary – The risk of tongue cancer can also increase if someone from the family or sibling of a person is already diagnosed with tongue cancer.
  • Poor Diet – If you are eating fewer vegetables and fruits, then you are increasing your chances of getting tongue cancer. Vegetables and fruits help to keep a person healthy and decrease the chances of tongue cancer.
  • Oral Hygiene – Poor oral hygiene is also one of the important factors that many people neglect. If you do not clean the teeth or tongue regularly and allow infections to develop, then it can lead to tongue cancer.

It should be noted that you can also get tongue cancer without these risk factors.


  • Initial Screening – When you visit the best oncologist, he or she will ask you a specific question to know about your condition and symptoms. The physician can further examine your mouth, neck or tongue to directly see the tongue cancer. They may use a long-handled, small mirror, which will be inserted into your throat to get a direct view.
  • Scan – For an in-depth understanding of tongue cancer, the doctor may suggest you to get a Computerized Tomography (CT) scan or X-ray scan. The scan can be done from various angles to get a detailed image and understanding. Further scans such as a Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scan may be recommended. This type of scan uses radioactive materials to understand the growth rate of the tumour cells.
  • Biopsy – Biopsy means the removal of a small section of cancer tissue from the tumour to understand and diagnose cancer. Like every other cancer, tongue cancer also requires biopsy. The cancer tissue is removed by the surgeon and it is later examined by a pathologist under a microscope.

Treatment of Tongue Cancer

There are many kinds tongue cancer treatment options, but the right treatment is selected on the basis of different factors such as:

  • The general health of the patient
  • The location of cancer on the tongue
  • The stage of the cancer

There are mainly three types of treatment for tongue cancer:

  • Chemotherapy – Chemotherapy is used in the following cases:
    • If cancer cannot be treated, then chemotherapy is used to reduce the symptoms and decrease the growth rate of cancer.
    • There is a risk of cancer coming back after the surgery. Doctors use chemotherapy to reduce the chances of cancer returning
    • Sometimes, it is used as an alternate option for surgery for those who do not wish or are not capable of going for surgical treatment. It is combined with radiotherapy to provide effective cancer treatment, which is called chemo-radiation.
  • Radiation Therapy – This type of therapy helps to decrease the growth rate and division rate of cancer cells. The tumour can also be shrunk, eliminated or destroyed by this treatment. The patient may need to receive radiotherapy treatment every day for 5-6 weeks to cure the cancer.
  • Surgery – Surgery is also another cancer treatment option where the cancer tissue or tumour is cut from the tongue. The lymph nodes can also be removed by the surgeon if cancer has spread to other areas of the neck.

We hope that this article helped you understand tongue cancer, its causes, diagnosis and treatment. If you doubt that you have any signs or symptoms of tongue cancer, then get yourself checked by a specialist.

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