What Does Cancer Look Like on Your Tongue?

Reviewed on 2/19/2021
Cancer on the tongue first appears as a pinkish-red lump or sore on the sides of tongue
Cancer on the tongue first appears as a pinkish-red lump or sore on the sides of the tongue

Cancer on the tongue first appears as a pinkish-red lump or sore on the sides of tongue margins. It may be numb or firm to feel and doesn’t fade away over time. The characteristics of these lumps include:

  • They may look like a patch or a lump or look like an ulcer.
  • They bleed if bitten or touched.
  • They may not heal for a long time.
  • A thickened area of the tongue.

Some may have tumors at the base of the tongue. The characteristics of these tongue cancer include:

  • They are challenging to identify in the initial stages because they are not easily visible. The tumor is usually diagnosed in the advanced stages when it is larger and has probably spread into the lymph nodes in the neck.
  • There are few to no symptoms in the early stages.
  • In advanced stages, cancer may cause:

The sore throat and other throat cancer symptoms can be caused by less severe conditions other than cancer. However, it’s essential to also lookout for any unusual tongue pain and other changes and inform the physician.

What is tongue cancer?

Tongue cancer is a type of oral cancer that begins in the cells of the tongue or mouth. The most common type of tongue cancer is that of the surface cells, and it is called squamous cell carcinoma. Squamous cells are thin flat cells that line the mouth and other organs. The common sites are:

  • Squamous cell cancer of the front of the tongue: This type of cancer affects the front, two-thirds of the tongue that you usually stick out.
  • Squamous cell cancer of the back of the tongue: This type of cancer affects the back one-third of the tongue that extends down the throat.

These two types of cancer have peculiar characteristics that are different from each other. The differences arise due to dissimilarities in their origin. Besides, the treatment regimen also varies for both types of cancers. Oral cancers are relatively rare and represent only about 3% of all cancers.

Who is at risk of developing tongue cancer?

Anyone can get tongue cancer, but certain factors probably increase the chances. They are:

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What is the treatment for tongue cancer?

The treatment of tongue cancer depends on the following things:

  • The stage of your cancer
  • The location of your cancer
  • Your general health

The treatment may consist of:

As mentioned earlier, the treatment varies depending on the type of tongue cancer. 

Treating oral tongue cancer:

  • Early stage: If the cancer is smaller than 4 cm, the most common method is to remove the affected area and some lymph nodes via surgery.
  • Advanced stage: If the cancer is more than 4 cm, the treatment involves:
    • Surgical removal of cancer from your tongue and lymph nodes from the neck
    • Reconstructive surgery
    • Radiotherapy after surgery

Treating back tongue cancer:

  • Early stage. Treatment involves:
    • Surgery to remove the cancer of the tongue and some of the lymph nodes in your neck.
    • Radiotherapy to throat and neck.
  • Advanced stage. The treatment options include:
    • Combination of chemotherapy and radiotherapy to your throat and neck
    • Surgical removal of part or whole of the throat
    • Radiotherapy

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References
Cedars-Sinai. Tongue Cancer. https://www.cedars-sinai.org/health-library/diseases-and-conditions/t/tongue-cancer.html

Cancer Research UK. Treating Tongue Cancer. https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/mouth-cancer/stages-types-grades/tongue-cancer/treatment

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