Tongue Cancer - Symptoms, causes and treatment

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Tongue Cancer - Symptoms, causes and treatment
Tongue Cancer - Symptoms, causes and treatment

Tongue cancer is a cancer that grows and originates from the tongue tissue. This condition can be characterized by canker sores, the appearance of red or white patches on the tongue, and a sore throat that does not go away

Tongue cancer develops from abnormal tongue tissue and grows abnormally, it can occur on the tip of the tongue or the base of the tongue.

tongue cancer
tongue cancer

Tongue cancer is mostly experienced by smokers and people who are addicted to alcoholic beverages. In addition, tongue cancer can also more easily occur in people who have been infected with the HPV virus (Human Papilloma Virus).

The Causes of Tongue Cancer

Tongue cancer occurs due to genetic changes or mutations in the cells of the tongue tissue. This genetic mutation causes cells to grow abnormally and uncontrollably, and become cancer cells. However, the exact cause of this genetic mutation is not yet known.

Men over 50 years old whose family members suffer from tongue cancer are more at risk of suffering from this tongue disease. In addition, the following factors can also increase the risk of tongue cancer:

  • Smoking

    The habit of smoking or consuming tobacco, even though not in the form of cigarettes, can increase the risk of tongue cancer due to exposure to cancer-causing (carcinogenic) substances found in in tobacco.

  • Consumption of liquor (alcohol)

    People who frequently drink large amounts of alcohol are more at risk of developing tongue cancer.

  • Human papillomavirus (HPV) infection

    Although rare, HPV can cause abnormal tissue growth in the mouth, thereby triggering cancer. HPV infection in the mouth can be spread through oral sex.

  • Poor oral he alth

    Tongue cancer can also be associated with uneven, rough, and jagged teeth, and improperly shaped dentures.

  • Unhe althy diet

    Not eating enough fruits and vegetables or having an unhe althy diet can increase the risk of tongue cancer.

Tongue Cancer Symptoms

The main symptoms that appear in people with tongue cancer are the appearance of red or white patches on the tongue, and canker sores that don't go away after a few weeks. Other symptoms of tongue cancer that can appear are:

  • Sore throat and pain when swallowing that lasts continuously.
  • Bumps appear in the mouth and neck area, due to swollen lymph nodes.
  • A numb feeling in the mouth that doesn't go away.
  • Bleeding on the tongue for no apparent reason.
  • Difficulty moving jaw.
  • Drastic weight loss.
  • Changes to voice and speech.

When to Go to the Doctor

Sometimes sufferers do not realize that the complaints they are experiencing are symptoms of tongue cancer. This abnormality is generally only discovered by dentists during routine examinations or dental examinations due to other problems.

Therefore, it is recommended that you undergo regular check-ups to the dentist every 3 months to 2 years, depending on the condition of your oral he alth. Regular treatment to the dentist is also important because tongue cancer is more at risk for someone whose oral he alth is not maintained, Complaints that are considered harmless, such as thrush or sore throat, can be a sign of tongue cancer. Consult a doctor immediately if these symptoms last more than three weeks, especially if you are a smoker or drink alcohol frequently.

Tongue Cancer Diagnosis

The step of diagnosing tongue cancer begins by asking the patient's complaints and medical history, for example, whether or not they have ever had an HPV infection. The doctor will also ask whether any of the patient's family members have had tongue cancer or not, as well as whether the patient has a habit of smoking or drinking alcohol.

After that, the doctor will examine the condition of the patient's mouth and tongue. If there is a suspicion of cancer, the doctor will refer the patient to an oncologist. The oncologist can then perform further examinations in the form of:

  • Tongue biopsy

    In this procedure, the doctor will take a sample of tongue tissue for examination in the laboratory. The patient will usually be given a local anesthetic during this biopsy process.

  • Endoscopy examination

    If tongue cancer is suspected at the base of the tongue, the doctor will perform an endoscopic examination. Endoscopic examination can simultaneously take samples of tongue tissue and lymph nodes around the tongue.

  • Scan

    Scanning is done to see the condition of the mouth and tongue, and determine the spread of cancer. The scan can be done with a CT scan or an MRI.

  • HPV test

    HPV test is done to check if the patient is positive for HPV infection which can cause tongue cancer.

Tongue Cancer Stage

Based on the severity and extent of spread of cancer cells, tongue cancer can be divided into four stages, namely:

  • Stage 1

    The cancer has started to grow, but the diameter of the cancer has not exceeded 2 cm and has not spread to the surrounding tissue. Stage 1 can be called the early stage of tongue cancer.

  • Stage 2

    The cancer has reached a diameter of about 2-4 cm, but has not spread to the surrounding tissue.

  • Stage 3

    The cancer is more than 4 cm in diameter and has spread to surrounding tissues, including to nearby lymph nodes.

  • Stage 4

    The cancer has spread to the tissues around the mouth and lips, or even to other organs that are far away, such as the lungs and liver.

Cancer on the tip of the tongue is easier to detect than cancer at the base of the tongue. Cancer on the front of the tongue is usually diagnosed when the cancer is small, making it easier to treat.

Cancer that appears at the base of the tongue tends to be detected only at an advanced stage, namely when the cancer has grown and has even spread to the lymph nodes in the neck.

Tongue Cancer Treatment

Treatment methods for tongue cancer depend on the location and stage of the cancer. If needed, the doctor will combine several types of treatment for maximum results. Treatment methods that doctors can use to treat tongue cancer are:


In small cancers or in early stages, surgery is performed by removing the cancerous tissue and the surrounding tissue. However, for cancer that has entered the final stage, the operation performed is an operation to cut the tongue or a glossectomy.

Tongue with advanced cancer will be excised, either partially or completely. After a glossectomy, patients may have difficulty eating, swallowing, and speaking. Therefore, the doctor may recommend reconstructive surgery to correct the shape of the severed tongue.

Reconstructive surgery is done by taking some skin tissue and then grafting the tissue onto the tongue that has been cut. After reconstructive surgery, patients can also undergo therapy to help them eat and talk, as well as to overcome psychological problems due to difficulty eating and talking.


Chemotherapy is cancer treatment with drugs that work to kill cancer cells. In addition, chemotherapy can also be done to relieve cancer symptoms.

For maximum results, chemotherapy is often combined with surgery or radiotherapy. Chemotherapy combined with surgery serves to shrink the cancer before it is surgically removed or to eradicate any remaining cancer cells after surgery.

Chemotherapy is also done to treat tongue cancer that has spread (metastasized) to other organs, and is usually combined with radiotherapy. Several types of drugs used for chemotherapy are cisplatin, fluorouracil, b leomycin, methotrexate, arboplatin, and docetaxel.


Radiotherapy is cancer treatment using high-energy rays. The light used for radiotherapy can come from a special machine outside the patient's body (external radiation) or a device that is placed inside the patient's body near the cancer site (internal radiation).

Radiotherapy can be used to treat cancer that is difficult to treat, shrink the size of the cancer before surgery, or kill cancer cells that have spread to other parts of the body. Radiotherapy can also relieve the symptoms of tongue cancer, especially in people with advanced tongue cancer.

Tongue Cancer Prevention

Tongue cancer can be prevented by staying away from the risk factors that trigger it. Some steps that can be taken are:

  • Quit smoking or consuming tobacco
  • Stop drinking alcohol
  • Keep your teeth and mouth clean, and visit the dentist regularly
  • Get vaccinated against HPV
  • Have safe sex, that is, don't change partners and use condoms
  • Increase consumption of vegetables and fruit

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