What is tongue cancer?
Tongue cancer is a type of cancer that develops in the tissues of the tongue. The tongue comprises different cells, and any of them can become cancerous. However, tongue cancer most commonly starts in the flat, thin cells that cover the tongue’s surface (squamous cells).
The most common site for oral cancer is the tongue. However, cancer can also develop in other areas of the mouth, including the lips, gums, and roof. In rare cases, oral cancer may spread to other parts of the body.
Tongue cancer can be malignant or benign. Malignant tumors are more aggressive and can spread to other body parts, while benign tumors are non-cancerous and not as serious. However, even benign tumors can cause problems if they grow large enough to interfere with normal tongue function.
What are the causes of tongue cancer?
Several things can increase your risk of developing tongue cancer. These include:
- Tobacco use: Tobacco use is the most common cause of tongue cancer. Smoking cigarettes, cigars, or pipes increases your risk of this cancer.
- Heavy alcohol use: Drinking large amounts of alcohol also increases your risk.
- Human papillomavirus (HPV): HPV is a group of viruses that can infect many parts of the body, including the mouth and throat. Infection with certain types of HPV can increase your risk of tongue cancer.
- Oral piercings: Oral piercings can damage the tissue in your mouth and tongue, which may increase your risk of tongue cancer.
- Poor oral hygiene: Poor oral hygiene can lead to a build-up of bacteria in your mouth, which may increase your risk of tongue cancer.
What are the symptoms of tongue cancer?
The early stages of tongue cancer may not cause any symptoms. However, as the tumor grows, it may cause changes in the way the tongue looks or feels. The most common symptom of tongue cancer is a sore or ulcer on the tongue that doesn’t go away. Tongue cancer may cause one or more of the following symptoms:
- Painful swallowing
- Difficulty moving the tongue
- You feel as if something is caught in your throat
- Swelling of the tongue
- Bleeding from the tongue
- Chronic pain in the mouth or tongue
- A lump on the tongue
- Changes in how your teeth fit together when you bite
- Numbness in the mouth or tongue
Other conditions can also cause these symptoms, so it’s important to see a doctor if you’re experiencing any of them. Only a medical professional can give you a definitive diagnosis.
How is tongue cancer diagnosed?
If your doctor suspects you have tongue cancer, they will probably order one or more tests to confirm the diagnosis. These tests may include –
- Physical exam: Your doctor will check your tongue for signs of tumors.
- Biopsy: A small tissue sample will be removed from your tongue and examined under a microscope.
- Imaging tests: These can help your doctor determine the size and location of any tumors. Tests may include X-rays, CT scans, MRIs, or PET scans.
Stages of oral cancer
There are four stages of oral cancer. The lower the stage number, the less cancer has spread.
It is also called carcinoma in situ. This is because the cancer cells are only in the top layer of tissue and have not spread deeper into your mouth.
Stage I: Cancer has spread through the top layer of tissue and into deeper tissues, but it’s still small. It may be up to 2 centimeters (about 3/4 of an inch).
Stage II: The cancer is larger than stage I, but it hasn’t spread to nearby lymph nodes. It may be up to 4 centimeters (1 1/2 inches).
Stage III: Cancer has grown larger and spread to nearby lymph nodes. It might be up to 6 centimeters (2 1/2inches).
Stage IV: Cancer has spread to other parts of your body, such as your lungs or liver. It might be of any size.
What does this mean for you?
If you have stage 0 oral cancer, it’s important to get treated right away because there’s a chance it could become stage I cancer. The earlier oral cancer is caught, the better chance you can beat it.
When choosing a treatment plan for you, your doctor will also consider the size of the tumor, where it is in your mouth, and whether it has spread to nearby lymph nodes or other parts of your body.
How is tongue cancer treated?
Treatment for tongue cancer depends on its stage. Early-stage cancers may be treated with surgery to remove the tumor.
Treatment for tongue cancer usually involves surgery, radiation therapy, and/or chemotherapy. Surgery is the most common treatment for tongue cancer. The type of surgery performed depends on the tumor size and location.
Radiation therapy kills cancer cells by using high-energy beams. We may use it before or after surgery. Similarly, chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells. Again, it may be used before or after surgery.
What are the side effects of treatment?
The side effects of treatment depend on the type and extent of treatment received. They can range from mild to severe and can last for a short or long term. Common side effects include fatigue, pain, swelling, numbness, and changes in taste and appearance.
If you experience major side effects of the treatment, get in touch with your doctor at the earliest.
What can I do to prevent tongue cancer?
There is no surefire way to prevent tongue cancer, but there are some steps you can take to lower your risk. These include quitting smoking, maintaining good oral hygiene, and limiting your alcohol intake. Eating a healthy diet and avoiding excessive sun exposure may also help reduce your risk.
Tongue cancer is a serious condition, but many people can make a full recovery with early diagnosis and treatment. By familiarizing yourself with the symptoms and treatment, you can expect good results. If you have any concerns about tongue cancer, talk to your doctor.
To stay on the safer side, visit a dentist regularly to take care of your oral hygiene. You can book an appointment with our experts to know more about tongue cancer in detail.
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