What is tongue cancer?

By | 8 May 2021

The tongue is located in the mouth and consists of muscles; It is an organ that has functions such as chewing, swallowing, initiating digestion, speaking and tasting. Cancer is defined as a malignant tumor that spreads starting from the cells in the layers known as epithelium that cover certain structures in the body. Tumors can sometimes be seen in the tongue as well as in many tissues in the body. Mouth and tongue cancers are found on the lips, tongue, or gums and usually threaten men over the age of 45. People must know about the types of cancer and their symptoms because it can be vital to see a doctor and get a diagnosis as the person notices the symptoms themselves. Early diagnosis has a very important place in cancer types.

What is tongue cancer?

Tongue cancer is a type of oral cancer that usually occurs in epithelial cells on the surface of the tongue or from a different tissue in the body. It progresses in the form of damage to the surrounding tissues and cells as a result of the uncontrolled growth and proliferation of tissues with different functions that make up language and the cells that make up these tissues. If this tumor in the tongue is not noticed in the early period and its treatment is not started, there is a risk of metastasis to the lymph nodes in the neck or to different organs in the body, and in this case, the disease becomes much more serious. To avoid this risk, we must have sufficient information about the types of cancer by experts and have our regular controls. In this way, our possibility of making an early diagnosis increases.

In the early stages of oral cancers, sometimes there are no or very mild symptoms, so it is very difficult to diagnose. Therefore, mouth and tongue cancers are among the dangerous types of cancer and are in 8th place among the most common types of cancer. People who smoke or drink alcohol are much more likely to have this cancer. Therefore, it is recommended that they be more careful against the symptoms.

Tongue cancers are the most common cancer types that can be seen in the mouth. Apart from the tongue, cancer can also be seen in the base of the mouth – sublingual, gum and jawbone (mandibula maxilla), cheek, tonsil – tonsil, hard and soft palates – small tongue (uvula) or lip parts.

What are the types of tongue and oral tumors?

Benign Tumors: Some tumors seen on the tongue are benign tumors called papilloma (warty tumor), fibroma, and granuloma.
Malignant Tumors:
Squamous Cell (Epidermoid) Cancer: It is the most common type of tumor in the epithelial layer on the surface of the tongue. This type of cancer is also the most common type among the tumor types seen in the head and neck region. The areas where tumors can be seen in the head and neck region are the nose, mouth (oral cavity), throat, pharynx (oropharynx), lower pharynx (hypopharynx), and larynx.
Mucoepidermoid Cancer: It is a type of tumor seen in salivary gland cells in microscopic sizes in the epithelial tissue on the surface of the tongue. Apart from the tongue, it can also originate from the epithelial tissues of different organs in the head and neck region. This tumor can also occur in the parotid (front of the ear), submandibular (under the jaw), sublingual (sublingual salivary glands) opening to the oral cavity. In this type of cancer, the symptom is usually swelling.
Adenocystic Cancer (Adenoid cystic cancer): Like the mucoepidermoid cancer type, it is seen in the salivary gland cells in microscopic sizes within the epithelial tissue on the surface of the tongue. It occurs in areas where the mucoepidermoid cancer type can be seen, and likewise, its symptom is mostly seen as swelling.

What is the incidence of tongue cancer?

The incidence of tongue cancer among all oral cancers is 3%. It is the most common lip cancer among oral cancers but comes in the 2nd place with tongue cancer. It is very unlikely to occur in individuals under the age of 40, but the incidence gradually increases after the age of 60-70. In addition, it is more likely to be seen in men than women. The reason for this is that smoking and alcohol use is higher in men than women.

What are the causes of tongue and oral tumors or cancer?

  • Frequent use of cigarettes or other tobacco products,
  • Continuous and excessive alcohol consumption,
  • Problems in oral hygiene (such as untreated decayed teeth, gingivitis, tooth fractures, dental irregularities)
  • Dental prostheses that irritate the mucosa over time because they do not fit well,
  • Human papilloma virus (HPV) status,
  • It can be counted as betel chewing, which is common in the Southeast Asian region.
  • In some patients, these factors may not cause cancer. This situation should still be taken into account.

What are the symptoms seen in tongue and oral cancer or tumor?

  • A red-white patch or ulcer on the tongue or even on the side of the tongue that does not go away for weeks and sometimes months, and this wound grows seriously over time, unlike other wounds,
  • The wound on the tongue causes pain as time passes, and sometimes even this pain hits the ear,
  • Feeling pain when chewing or swallowing while eating,
  • Feeling hardening in the tissue of the tongue,
  • Bad breath in breath,
  • Sometimes feeling numbness in the tongue or in certain areas in the mouth,
  • Change in the person’s voice,
  • Unexplained weight loss,
  • Mass formation in the head or neck area,
  • Growth in the glands in the neck area,
  • Difficulty during mouth opening can be counted as feeling pain.

The person who notices these symptoms himself should consult an otolaryngologist as soon as possible. If the doctor also suspects, a biopsy test is requested and a diagnosis is made according to the result. If the doctor diagnoses tongue cancer in the biopsy results, some tests are performed to test whether this cancer has spread to different tissues in the body, the size of the tumor, and the stage of the tumor. The imaging methods that can be used at this stage are known as ultrasound, computed tomography (CT), or MRI. As a result of this imaging, the treatment to be applied to the person is created by the specialist physician.

What are the methods in the treatment of tongue cancer?

Tongue cancer is a type of cancer that can be cured, but early diagnosis is vital in this type of cancer, as in all types of cancer. The surgical method comes to mind as the first and main treatment in tongue cancer. In this surgical method, tumor removal is performed. However, patients who are detected as a result of imaging that the tongue cancer is at an advanced stage or has spread to different regions require radiation therapy or chemotherapy treatment. In such cases, radiation therapy or chemotherapy is added to the surgical method. In the treatment options applied, the most efficient result is obtained in patients who are diagnosed when the cancer is in the early stage, who have cancer that has no spread, and who have a good general condition.

  • Surgical Method: The complexity of the surgical treatment performed according to the size of the tumors may also differ. In the case of tongue cancer, lymph nodes and lymph vessels that are suspected or at risk should be cleaned because there is usually a possibility of spillage. This operation is called a neck dissection.
  • Radiotherapy: It is necessary to undergo radiotherapy after surgery in cancer types that are at an advanced stage or have been found to have spread as a result of imaging techniques. Radiotherapy treatment is also recommended for people who are not able to undergo surgery or in cases of recurrent cancer.
  • Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy is not applied as a standalone treatment for the patient with tongue cancer, but is recommended by physicians in cases where other treatments do not work or as an additional treatment to radiotherapy.


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