Tongue Cancer

What is Tongue Cancer?

There are two types of tongue cancer.

The first is called mouth or oral cancer. This is when cancer cells form in the part of the tongue that you can see when you stick out your tongue. It is the front two thirds of the tongue. The back third of the tongue is called the pharynx. When cancer forms in this part of the tongue it is called oropharyngeal cancer.

What are the Symptoms of Tongue Cancer?

The symptoms of tongue cancer can be related to other conditions and diseases, as well, so it is important to consult with a doctor.

Symptoms of tongue cancer may include: a sore throat that won’t go away or pain when swallowing.  You may also have a patch on the tongue that is red or white or a lump or sore spot (ulcer) and doesn’t go away. Consistent numbness or unexplained bleeding from the tongue can also be a sign of tongue cancer.  On rare occasions you may experience a pain in the ear.

Tongue Cancer Causes

Tongue cancer can be caused by high-risk human papilloma virus (HPV), a sexually transmitted infection. This type of cancer usually occurs on the base of the tongue. Tongue cancer generally begins in the squamous cells lining the surface of the tongue.

Other things that can cause tongue cancer include syphilis, smoking, cirrhosis of the liver, alcoholism, dentures that don’t fit right, jagged teeth, and lack of proper dental hygiene. Your genes can also significantly impact how likely it is that you’ll get tongue cancer.

How is Tongue Cancer Treated?

Early diagnosis of tongue cancer means that there is a better chance of treating it successfully.  Treatment will depend on what kind of cancer you have and if it has spread anywhere.  Treatment can include chemotherapy, radiotherapy, or even surgery.

If a small area of the tongue is affected, surgery may be the best option.  If the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes, your doctor may recommend a combination of surgery and radiotherapy. This will decrease the chances of the cancer coming back. If the cancer has grown significantly, you may have to have the entire tongue removed in a surgery called a glossectomy; reconstructive surgery would follow.

Tongue Cancer Prevention

You can lower your risk of getting tongue cancer by limiting or ceasing your tobacco use (which includes cigars, cigarettes, pipes, and chewing tobacco), reducing your consumption of alcohol, and keeping a strong, healthy immune system. The HPV vaccination is also said to prevent cancers of the mouth and throat.

Exercise can also help prevent tongue cancer, specifically yoga. Meditation has also been used as a way to help prevent tongue cancer. Yoga, combined with meditation, pranayama, and yogasanas are able to reverse epigenetic changes against chronic diseases.

A number of natural methods can be used to help prevent tongue cancer, which includes dietary supplements, antioxidants like vitamins A,C, and E, and turmeric. You can also try Neem, green tea, selenium, Spirulina (the healthiest food containing probiotics, essential fatty acids, and antioxidants), tomatoes and medical mushrooms, which are all used preventatively. Vitamin A works by enhancing cellular immunity, vitamin C blocks the formation of fecal mutagens, and vitamin E maintains membrane and immune function, as well as inhibiting growth of cancer cells.

Antioxidants can also aid in the prevention of cancers of the mouth by inhibiting the process of oxidation associated with free radicals. These free radicals are believed to interact with DNA causing cell damage and cancer. Therefore, antioxidants can help prevent tongue cancer.

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Last Reviewed:
October 11, 2016
Last Updated:
September 11, 2017