Cancer is the uncontrolled growth of cells in a particular organ of the body resulting in a lump or tumour. Mouth cancers can be of several types depending on the specific areas where this uncontrolled division of cells occurs.
What Is Tongue Cancer?
Different types of cancers can occur in the oral cavity. Among cancers of the tongue , the most common is the cancer growth in the lining of the surface of the tongue tissue, i.e., in the flat squamous cells. Squamous cell carcinoma is common and can appear on the skin surface, mouth lining, nose, larynx, thyroid, throat, etc. It also affects the lining of the airway and alimentary canal. By determining the cells involved, doctors can diagnose the cancer type affecting the tongue . Primarily, there are two types:
- Oral Tongue Cancer- This type of cancer affects the tip of the tongue. It can be diagnosed and treated immediately.
- Hypopharyngeal tongue cancer – This cancer may develop with few signs and symptoms in the throat, at the base of your tongue, where tongue. It is not diagnosed early in most cases and is usually detected when the tumour becomes very large.
Symptoms of Tongue Cancer
One of the early symptoms is the painful lump formation on the sides of your tongue that grows. The lump may be slightly pinkish red in colour . It will be sore to the touch. Other symptoms are:
- Red or white patches that do not go away in weeks.
- Persisting tongue ulcer
- Numbness in the oral cavity.
- Bleeding in the lump if you try to touch or bite it.
- Pain while swallowing.
On the other hand, oropharyngeal cancer does not show any symptoms in early stages and can get detected by your healthcare provider during a physical exam.
Causes of Tongue Cancer
The exact cause of tongue cancer is unknown. It is found more in older men than women or children. But certain habits and patterns have been linked to the development of oral cancers. They are:
- Tobacco consumption
- Alcohol addiction
- Poor diet
- Chewing betel leaves
- Jagged teeth
- Infected with HPV (Human papillomavirus)
When to See a Doctor?
If you feel painful lumps in your mouth that won’t go away on their own or experience any of the symptoms given above, you should see your doctor. Your doctor will first note your family history and perform a physical examination of your oral cavity to check for lumps, tumors, unhealed ulcers, lymph nodes, etc., and determine the nature of cancer and its spread. You will be asked about addictions (if any) to smoking or drinking or if you have ever tested positive for HPV (Human papillomavirus).
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A biopsy gets prescribed if the doctor suspects a cancerous growth in the oral cavity. A small part of the tumor or the lump gets incised and analyzed in a lab. Various other techniques, such as CT, MRI scans, etc., can be used to determine how far cancer has spread in the oral cavity and rest of the body.
How to Prevent Oral Cancers?
Oral cancers can be prevented if certain practices are followed and taking extra care of your oral hygiene. It includes:
- Avoid chewing tobacco or betel leaf. Tobacco is carcinogenic.
- Quit smoking.
- Control alcohol consumption. Chronic alcohol consumption irritates the oral cavity, thus making it more susceptible to cancer.
- Get HPV vaccination.
- Practice safe sex.
- Have a healthy diet, including fruits and vegetables.
- Brush and floss regularly. Regularly visiting the dentist will help you quickly catch any abnormality which has just begun.
- Take care of your gums.
- Ensure that you brush your teeth daily and floss regularly
The treatment of oral cancer depends on which part and how much cancer has spread in the oral cavity. Sometimes, when cancer is in the initial stage and hasn’t metastasized, it can be treated by a surgical operation to remove the affected area. If cancer has spread, a large part of the tongue gets removed. This procedure is called glossectomy. Removing a part of the tongue affects eating, swallowing, and speaking. In such cases, reconstruction surgery is done, where tissue from another part of the body is used to rebuild the tongue. If cancer has spread to the lymph nodes, it gets surgically removed, and the whole procedure gets supported by chemotherapy to ensure that all cancer cells get killed. All surgical processes get followed by radiation and chemotherapy.
The earlier the diagnosis, the better is the survival rate. With early diagnosis, doctors can save a large part of the tongue before cancer spreads to other parts of the body. If you have lumps or ulcers that do not heal and persist for long periods, visit a doctor.
The survival rate can be determined depending upon the spread of tongue cancer. With just local spread, the survival rate is more. If cancer has spread to just the tongue without the involvement of lymph nodes or any other part of the oral cavity, the survival rate is as high as 78 percent. If cancer has spread way beyond the tongue and oral cavity, the survival rate can down to 36%. Thus it is vital to be very conscious about oral health, and one should contact their health care provider if they find any lump or ulcer or soreness which is not going away for more than two weeks. Earlier diagnosis will increase the survival rate with fewer complications, risks, and side effects.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
- I regularly have ulcers. Should I be concerned about oral cancer?
If your ulcers heal on their own within two weeks, it is not an issue. If they do not, you should see your doctor and get them checked. Also, look out for other symptoms, such as pain and lumps in your oral cavity.
- What if tongue cancer is left untreated?
If cancer is left untreated, it might spread to other body parts. Also, such patients will be in pain and have difficulty eating and swallowing. Patients will also have a slurred speech, thus affecting their normal daily activities.
- Is a relapse possible even after proper treatment of oral cancer?
Relapse is always a possibility with cancer of any type. Hence, it is recommended that you regularly visit your healthcare provider for follow-ups.