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Cancer of Tongue : Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, Recovery, Prevention, Alternative Treatment

What is Cancer of Tongue?

The cancer which starts from the cells of the human tongue is termed as cancer of tongue. There can be various types of cancer of tongue but usually the thin cells that forms the surface of the tongue are effected first. These cells are flat and square in shape. The type of treatment and severity of cancer of tongue is determined by the type of cells of tongue affected by cancer.

What is Cancer of Tongue?

Various types of cancer of tongue are:

  • Oral Cancer of Tongue: This type of cancer can be easily noticed and thus it is diagnosed early in most cases. It can be easily treated by surgical methods.
  • Hypopharyngeal Cancer of Tongue: This type of cancer of tongue occurs at the base of the tongue close to neck. It is usually diagnosed at the later stages when it takes the form of a large tumour as it does not show many signs and symptoms. It can spread also affect the lymph nodes of the neck. This type of cancer usually involves human papillomavirus (HPV) which mainly determines the treatment and severity of the cancer.

Cancer of tongue is best treated using surgical methods. However, other methods of treatment such as radiation therapy, chemotherapy etc… can also be used. In the advanced stages of cancer of tongue, treatment procedures can also affect your speech and ability to eat. It is not easy to adjust to the changes and cope up with the disease but a team of skilled rehabilitation experts can make it easier.

What is the Survival Rate for Cancer of Tongue?

The survival rate for cancer of tongue depends on the stage of the cancer, if the cancer of tongue is in stage I the chances of survival is excellent. If the cancer of tongue stage is IV then it means that the cancer has spread to other parts of the oral cavity and needs treatment accordingly.

Causes of Cancer of Tongue

Scientists do not know what exactly causes the cancer of tongue. There are only possible risk factors which will be explained shortly. Tongue can be divided into two parts: base of the tongue and oral tongue. Cancer of tongue can happen at any of the two parts. Oral tongue is defined as the outer two-third section of tongue while the rest is termed as base of the tongue. Cancer occurring in the oral tongue is categorised into the group of mouth (oral) cancer.

Squamous cell carcinoma (SCCA) is the most usual form of cancer of tongue. Squamous cells are similar to skin cells that are found in the inner lining of larynx, thyroid, mouth, throat and nose. Cancer of tongue which begins at these cells of tongue is referred as squamous cell carcinoma (SCCA).

Signs and Symptoms of Cancer of Tongue

Cancer of tongue shares more or less same symptoms as in other forms of oral cancer. Sometimes, people can misinterpret cancer of tongue as severe and persistent case of cold. Common signs and symptoms of cancer of tongue are as follows:

  • Persistent pain in jaws and tongue is a major symptom of cancer of tongue.
  • Another sign of cancer of tongue is development of lump inside the mouth.
  • Visible patches of red and white in the tongue, gums, tonsils or in the inner lining of mouth.
  • Sore throat or feeling as if something is stuck in the throat.
  • Discomfort in chewing and swallowing food.
  • Discomfort in moving tongue and jaw.

Note: The occurrence of symptoms is subjected to several conditions other than cancer of tongue and you must refer to your doctor for proper diagnoses of your condition.

Risk Factors for Cancer of Tongue

Following are certain risk factors that can make you more prone to cancer of tongue:

  • Smoking or intake of tobacco in any of the forms such as cigars, cigarettes, snuff, chewing tobacco, pipes etc… are risk factors for cancer of tongue.
  • Drinking excessive alcohol.
  • Transmission of human papillomavirus (HPV).
  • Weak immune system is also at risk of cancer of tongue.

Tests to Diagnose Cancer of Tongue

The first priority of a doctor is to determine the severity of cancer of tongue once it is diagnosed.

  • Endoscopy to Diagnose Cancer of Tongue: In this test, your doctor inserts a small tube equipped with camera in your throat through nose to look for any abnormality or signs of cancer in tongue and throat. It is little uncomfortable and is usually done at doctor’s facility.
  • Another Way to Diagnose Cancer of Tongue is Using Imaging Tests: Imaging tests help to determine the extent of tongue cancer beyond tongue. It includes various methods such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), computerized tomography (CT) scans, X rays, positron emission tomography (PET) scans etc… Your doctor determines the type of test that is best suited in your condition.

The Treatment Depends on the Stage of Cancer of Tongue

The severity of cancer of tongue is specified by stages of cancer of tongue numbered in Roman numerical from I to IV. Stage I refers to cancer limited to one area while stage IV refers to a condition where cancer has resulted into a large tumour or has advanced to neck, head or other surrounding parts of body. Treatment procedure is determined by stage of cancer of tongue.

Treatment for Cancer of Tongue

Some of the common treatment methods for cancer of tongue are as follows:

  • Surgery for Treating Cancer of Tongue: Cancer of tongue is usually treated by removing the tumour surgically from the tongue using best possible surgical techniques.
  • Radiation Therapy to Treat Cancer of tongue: In this therapy for treating cancer of tongue, tissue affected with cancer is exposed to radiations with extreme accuracy.
  • Another Way to Treat Cancer of Tongue is Through Chemotherapy: This treatment procedure make use of certain drugs that are capable of destroying tissues affected with cancer anywhere in body. Usually a combination of drugs is used for different stages of cancer of tongue to ensure that cells affected with cancer cannot develop resistance against drug. This method is suitable if cancer has spread to surrounding tissues or organs.
  • Targeted Drug Therapy: Targeted drug therapy is usually used in combination with radiation or/and chemotherapy for best results. It involves use of drugs that can prevent the growth of cells affected with cancer.

Cancer of Tongue Treatment Side Effects

There are certain temporary or permanent side effects associated with every treatment option for cancer of tongue. Surgical removal of tumour in cancer of tongue can affect your ability to speak, drink and eat.

Exposure to radiations during radiation therapy can leave your mouth sore and dry. It can also affect the taste of mouth. Cancer of tongue is usually treated with one of the following two types of chemotherapy drugs:

  • Fluorouracil
  • Cisplatin

Some more drugs that may be used for treatment of cancer of tongue are as follows:

  • Methotrexate.
  • Bleomycin.
  • Carboplatin.

Alternative Treatment for Cancer of Tongue

Cancer of tongue cannot be treated with any other alternative treatment procedures. However, there are certain alternative and complementary medications that can be used to manage the side effects occurring during the treatment procedures like fatigue, stress, depression, pain.

Fatigue is one of the most common side effects experienced by most of the people undergoing treatment for cancer of tongue. Doctors usually take care of the underlying reasons that can lead to fatigue but you can still feel worn out. This is where complementary medications help in getting rid of fatigue.

Talk to your doctor about the following alternative/ complementary treatment options:

  • Exercising for about 30 minutes five to six days a week can help you cope up with the fatigue occurring as a side effect or treatment for cancer of tongue. You can choose from brisk walking, cycling, swimming etc… after referring to your doctor about the safety.
  • Usage of massage therapy as an alternative or complementary therapy can help your body to relax and manage the side effects of cancer of tongue treatment. There are some exclusive massage therapists who specializes in offering massage to people suffering from cancer. You can refer to your doctor to find out where you can find such therapists.
  • Relaxation techniques can be used as a complimentary or alternative therapy. Doing things that you like can ease out the stress and help you relax your mind.
  • Acupuncture is a popular therapy for treatment of various medical condition which involves use of small need to apply pressure on particular key points in body. There are reports that it helps in managing vomiting, nausea, fatigue and pain. There are specialist acupuncturists, who specializes in treating people suffering from different types of cancer.

Recovery Period/Healing Time for Cancer of Tongue

It is recommended to refer to your doctor to know about the recovery time/healing time for cancer of tongue as it varies from one person to another. You can doctor can tell you the recovery time in your cases based on the severity of cancer and treatment procedure. You can also clear any of your doubts.

Prevention of Cancer of Tongue

As such there is nothing much you can do to prevent occurrence of cancer of tongue but you can take some measures to reduce the chances of occurrence:

  • Stay away from tobacco to prevent cancer of tongue. Intake of tobacco in the form of either smoking or chewing is harmful and must be avoided as it increases the risk of tongue cancer.
  • Another way to prevent cancer of tongue is to stay away from alcohol. Regular drinking of alcohol increases the risk of tongue cancer. If you cannot quit drinking, it is recommended to restrict drinking to one drink per day for women and two drinks for men.
  • Eating healthy diet can help in avoiding cancer of tongue. Intake of lots of vegetables and fruits nourishes your body with antioxidants and vitamins that help in minimizing the chances of cancer of tongue.
  • Try to wear a hat or something that can protect your face including lips for direct sunlight as it can make you vulnerable to cancer of tongue.
  • Go for regular dental check-ups in order to prevent cancer of tongue. Your doctor can identify any abnormalities in mouth that may look like signs or symptoms of cancer of tongue. This can help in early diagnoses of cancer and avoid cancer from spreading to adjacent parts.

Coping with Cancer of Tongue

Being diagnosed with cancer of tongue can be hard to tackle as you lack awareness about the outcomes and prognosis. Thus, by gathering information about the disease, its symptoms, complications and treatment options can help you to cope up with the situation. Following measures can ease out things for you and help in coping with cancer of tongue.

  • Gather information about the treatment options to choose the best option. Pen down everything that you wish to ask to your doctor before visiting your doctor. You can take help of your friend or voice recorder. You can ask your doctor about the websites and books where you can find a reliable information about cancer of tongue and its treatment options. Having more information about the medical condition always helps you to cope up with the cancer of tongue.
  • Share your experience with people having cancer of tongue. Try to find people who are experiencing or going through the same condition. You can also join support groups or communities related to cancer management. You can also seek help from American Cancer Society. Some organisations such as Oral Cancer Foundation offers support through online message boards.
  • Give yourself some leisure time. It is important to stop thinking too much about the condition and find time to do things that you enjoy. You can also try giving yourself small breaks to relax your mind.
  • Stay connected to your friends and family to properly cope with cancer of tongue. Usually people tend to isolate themselves in such situation which makes it harder for them to cope up with cancer of tongue. Instead, spending time with your friends and family can provide you good emotional and practical support. You can also take their help in your work, prepare a meal or share your problems. This will make it lot easier to deal with the situation.

Lifestyle Changes for Cancer of Tongue

Avoiding Intake of Tobacco is a Good Lifestyle Change for Cancer of Tongue

Intake of tobacco is considered to be one of the main reasons for cancer of tongue. Avoiding consumption of tobacco is a good lifestyle change for cancer of tongue. All forms of tobacco intake including pipes, cigars, cigarettes, snuff etc… are harmful as:

  • Intake of tobacco can reduce the effectiveness of treatment.
  • Use of tobacco interrupts with the healing process after the surgery for cancer of tongue.
  • Use of tobacco also makes you more prone to recurrence of cancer of tongue in future.

Avoiding intake of tobacco via chewing or smoking can be hard especially when you are going through a tough and stressful phase of treatment for cancer of tongue. However, you can explore suitable options such as nicotine replacement, medications, counselling etc with your doctor to help you in quitting.

Another Lifestyle Change for Cancer of Tongue is to Avoiding Alcohol Consumption

Intake of alcohol as drinking along with use of tobacco can make you highly prone to cancer of tongue. Thus, quitting drinking can help you significantly to reduce the risk of developing cancer of tongue and it is a good lifestyle change in general. It will also help in making treatment for cancer more effective.


  1. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/oral-cavity-and-oropharyngeal-cancer/about/what-is-oral-cavity-cancer.html – American Cancer Society’s information on oral cavity cancer, including tongue cancer.
  2. https://www.cancer.gov/types/head-and-neck/patient/adult/laryngeal-treatment-pdq – Information from the National Cancer Institute on laryngeal cancer treatment (which can be relevant to throat cancers).
  3. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/mouth-cancer/symptoms-causes/syc-20350997 – Mayo Clinic’s overview of mouth cancer, including risk factors and prevention.

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Team PainAssist
Team PainAssist
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Team PainAssist, Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:September 2, 2023

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