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As the name implies, tongue cancer is a cancer of the tongue. Depending on where the cancer is located on the tongue, it can fall into one of two categories: oral cavity cancer or oropharyngeal cancer. If the cancer is in the two-thirds of the tongue that is towards the front, it is considered oral cavity cancer. Alternatively, if it is in back third of the tongue, it is called oropharyngeal cancer. One in 348 people will be affected by tongue cancer at some point; however, the key to combating it is early detection and awareness of tongue cancer symptoms.
Oral cavity cancer is not only cancer of the tongue, but also the lips, cheeks, hard palate, floor of mouth, minor salivary glands, and gums. It can spread from one part to another, so it is important to be aware of the symptoms of oral cavity cancer in all of its forms, including tongue cancer symptoms. Some symptoms are quite evident while others are a little less obvious.
One of the main tongue cancer symptoms is a patch or several patches of red or white on the tongue. The patches can also be found on the lining of the mouth or the gums. Some people who experience tongue cancer symptoms have problems swallowing or chewing their food, while others have a persistent sore throat. Other signs of tongue cancer include abnormal bleeding in the mouth, sores in the mouth or tongue, lumps on the tongue or in the mouth, a change in the sound of the voice, earaches, and alterations in the way that dentures fit inside the mouth.
The other kind of tongue cancer is oropharyngeal cancer. It is separate for oral cavity cancer and includes the back one-third of the tongue, the tonsils, the soft palate, the walls of the pharynx, and the tonsilar arches. Many times oropharyngeal cancer is discovered by the patient’s dentist, since there may not be any symptoms at the beginning.
There are several symptoms for oropharyngeal cancer, many which are directly associated with the back of the tongue. For example, there may be difficulty swallowing food or liquids, an unexplainable loss of weight, or a lump in the back of the throat. There may also be a pain in the ear area, or a lump on the neck from swollen lymph nodes. One of the classic symptoms is a persistent sore throat. This can be the result of an ulcer in the mouth or of a tumor that is pushing against nerves.
Early detection and treatment are key factors to surviving any form of cancer. People who are aware of their bodies and who are knowledgeable of tongue cancer symptoms may be able to seek medical treatment sooner than those people who are unaware. Any concerns should be addressed by a physician.