Tongue Cancer

Tongue Cancer

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. This disorder can occur on the tip of the tongue or the base of the tongue.

Tongue cancer is 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 ).

Causes of Tongue Cancer

Tongue cancer occurs due to changes or genetic mutations in the cells in the tongue tissue. This genetic mutation causes these cells to grow abnormally and uncontrollably so that they become  cancer cells .

The exact cause of this genetic mutation is not known. However, men aged over 50 years 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
    habits  Smoking habits , or consuming tobacco, although not in the form of cigarettes, can increase the risk of tongue cancer. This is due to exposure to cancer-causing (carcinogenic) substances found in tobacco.
  • Consumption of alcoholic beverages
    People who frequently consume alcoholic beverages in large quantities are more at risk of developing tongue cancer.
  • Human papillomavirus (HPV) infection Although 
    rare,  HPV  can cause abnormal tissue growth in the mouth, which can lead to cancer. HPV infection in the mouth can be spread through oral sex.
  • Poor oral health
    Tongue cancer can also be associated with uneven, rough, and jagged teeth, and improperly shaped dentures.
  • Unhealthy diet
    Eating less fruits and vegetables or having an unhealthy 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 do not go away after a few weeks. Other symptoms of tongue cancer that can appear are:

  • Persistent sore throat and pain when swallowing
  • A lump appears in the mouth and neck area, due to  swollen lymph nodes
  • Numbness in the mouth that doesn't go away
  • Bleeding on the tongue for no apparent reason
  • Difficulty moving the jaw
  • Drastic weight loss
  • Changes in voice and speech

When to go to the doctor

A person sometimes does not realize that the complaints they are experiencing are symptoms of tongue cancer. This abnormality is generally only discovered by  a doctor  during a routine examination or dental examination due to other problems.

Therefore, make regular checkups with the dentist every 3 months to 2 years, depending on the condition of your oral health. Regular treatment to the dentist is also important, because tongue cancer is more at risk in people whose oral health is not maintained,

Complaints that are considered harmless, such as canker sores or sore throat, can be a sign of tongue cancer. Immediately consult a doctor if these symptoms last more than 3 weeks, especially if you are a smoker or drink alcohol frequently.

Tongue Cancer Diagnosis

The diagnosis of tongue cancer begins with asking the patient's complaints and medical history, one of which is a history of HPV infection. The doctor will also ask if any of the patient's family members have had tongue cancer, and whether the patient has a habit of smoking or consuming alcoholic beverages.

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 will then perform an examination 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 the  biopsy
  • Endoscopy If tongue
    cancer is suspected at the base of the tongue, the doctor will perform an  endoscopic examination . In this examination, the doctor can simultaneously take a sample of tongue tissue and lymph nodes around the tongue.
  • Scans
    Scans are performed to see the condition of the mouth and tongue, as well as the extent of cancer spread. The scan can be done with a CT scan or an  MRI .
  • HPV
    test HPV test is done to check whether 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
    Cancer has started to grow, but the diameter of the cancer has not exceeded 2 cm and has not spread to the tissues. Stage 1 is also known as early stage.
  • Stage 2
    Cancer has reached a diameter of about 2-4 cm, but has not spread to the surrounding tissue.
  • Stage 3
    The diameter of the cancer is more than 4 cm and has spread to surrounding tissues, including to nearby lymph nodes.
  • Stage 4
    Cancer has spread to the tissues around the mouth and lips, or even to other distant organs, such as the lungs and liver.

Cancer at the tip of the tongue is easier to detect than cancer at the base of the tongue. Cancer in the front of the tongue will usually be diagnosed when the cancer is still small so it is easier to treat.

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

Tongue Cancer Treatment

Tongue cancer treatment methods depend on the size 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 still in the early stages, surgery is performed by removing the cancerous tissue and the surrounding tissue. However, if the cancer has entered the final stage, surgery is performed to cut the tongue or glossectomy.

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

Tongue correction surgery is done by taking some of the skin tissue and then grafting the tissue onto the tongue that has been cut. After surgery, the patient may undergo therapy to help him eat and talk, as well as to overcome psychological problems caused by difficulty eating and speaking.


Chemotherapy  is the administration of drugs to kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy can also be used to relieve cancer symptoms.

For maximum results, chemotherapy is often combined with surgery or radiotherapy. Chemotherapy combined with surgery works to shrink the size of the cancer before it is surgically removed, or to eradicate cancer cells that are still left after surgery.

Chemotherapy can also be combined with radiotherapy to treat tongue cancer that has spread (metastasized) to other organs. Several types of drugs used for chemotherapy are cisplatin , fluorouracilbleomycin, methotrexate, carboplatin, 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 cancers that are 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.

Complications of Tongue Cancer

If not treated immediately, tongue cancer can cause various complications, such as the spread of cancer cells to the lymph nodes of the neck, bones, lungs, and liver. In addition, sufferers can also experience difficulty in speaking.

Patients who undergo tongue cancer treatment methods can also experience various complications or side effects of treatment. For example, patients who undergo tongue removal surgery may experience dysphagia , bleeding, infection, and formation of fistulas to the facial skin.

Meanwhile, patients undergoing radiation may experience side effects such as:

  • Inflammation of the mouth (mucositis)
  • Skin damage
  • Dry mouth (xerostomia)
  • Changes in the ability to taste on the tongue

Tongue Cancer Prevention

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

  • Quit smoking or consuming tobacco
  • Stop consuming alcoholic beverages
  • Getting  the HPV vaccine
  • Increase consumption of vegetables and fruit
  • Maintain dental and oral hygiene, and visit the dentist regularly
  • Have safe sex, i.e. be faithful to one partner and use condoms
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