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4 Revealing Tongue Cancer Stages

June 6, 2022
Est. Reading: 4 minutes

Tongue cancer is a type of cancer that develops in the tongue. The tongue comprises two types of tissue: squamous and glandular. Tongue cancer can develop in either type of cell, but most cases occur in squamous cells. Tongue cancer is more common in men than women, and the average age at diagnosis is 60. Further on, we will talk about tongue cancer stages.

Causes and Risk Factors of Tongue Cancer

Several risk factors can increase your chance of developing tongue cancer, including:

tongue cancer from smoking


-Tobacco use: People can develop tongue cancer from smoking. Smoking tobacco is the most common cause of tongue cancer. Chewing tobacco and snuffing also increases a person's risk.

-Heavy alcohol use: Drinking alcohol increases the risk of tongue cancer, especially if a person smokes tobacco.

-HPV on Tongue: Infection with the human papillomavirus (HPV) is a risk factor for tongue cancer. HPV on the tongue is a sexually transmitted virus that can cause abnormal changes in the cells of the language.

-Oral hygiene: Poor oral hygiene and dental health can increase the risk of tongue cancer.

-Diet: A diet low in fruits and vegetables may increase the risk of tongue cancer.

-Age: Tongue cancer is more common in people over 50.

Tongue Cancer Symptoms

The symptoms of tongue cancer can vary depending on the size and location of the tumor. Tongue cancer often starts as a small, painless sore that does not heal on the tongue. The sore may bleed easily and appear as a red or white patch on the tongue. Tongue cancer may also cause problems with chewing, swallowing, or speaking.

Other tongue cancer symptoms can include:

-A sore throat that does not go away

-Painful swallowing

-Weight loss

-Bad breath

-Ear pain

Tongue Cancer Stages

Tongue cancer stages range from I to IV. Tongue cancer caught in the early stages (I and II) can often be cured with surgery and radiation therapy. However, tongue cancer that has spread to other body parts (phase IV) is more challenging to treat and is often incurable.

 tongue cancer stages

Tongue cancer stages are differentiated as follows:

  • Stage I Tongue Cancer: In stage I tongue cancer, the tumor is 2 centimeters (cm) or less and has not spread to nearby lymph nodes or other body parts.
  • Stage II Tongue Cancer: In stage II tongue cancer, the tumor is more significant than 2 cm but has not spread to nearby lymph nodes or other body parts.
  • Stage III Tongue Cancer: In stage III tongue cancer, the tumor has spread to nearby lymph nodes but not to other body parts.
  • Stage IV Tongue Cancer: In stage IV tongue cancer, the tumor has spread to other body parts, such as the lungs or liver.

Diagnosing and Treating Tongue Cancer 

If a person has symptoms of tongue cancer, their doctor will perform a physical examination and take a medical history. The doctor may also order one or more tests to make a diagnosis.

Tests used to diagnose tongue cancer include:

-Biopsy: A biopsy removes a small piece of tissue from the tongue for examination under a microscope. A biopsy is the only way to diagnose tongue cancer definitively.

-Imaging tests: Imaging tests such as X-rays, computed tomography (CT) scans, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans look for tumors in the tongue.

-Endoscopy: An endoscope is a thin, flexible tube with a light and camera to examine the inside of the throat.

After performing the tests, the doctor will review the results and diagnose. For example, if a person gets tongue cancer, their doctor will stage cancer to determine its extent. Staging is necessary because it helps guide treatment decisions.

The treatment for tongue cancer depends on the stage of the disease, the patient's overall health, and preferences. Treatment options for tongue cancer include surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy.

  • Surgery is the most common treatment for tongue cancer. The type of surgery performed will depend on the stage of the disease. Tongue cancer caught early may be treated with partial removal of the tongue (partial glossectomy). More advanced tongue cancer may require total removal of the language (total glossectomy). Surgery may also remove lymph nodes in the neck affected by cancer.
  • Radiation therapy uses high-energy beams to kill cancer cells. Radiation therapy can be used before or after surgery, and doctors may use it in combination with chemotherapy.
  • Chemotherapy is a treatment that uses drugs to kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy can be given intravenously or orally, and it is often used in combination with radiation therapy.

After treatment, a patient will be closely monitored for signs of cancer recurrence. Follow-up appointments may include physical examinations, imaging tests, and blood tests. These appointments are essential to ensure that cancer has not returned.


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