Squamous cell carcinoma is one of the most common types of cancer of the tongue. The symptoms vary depending upon the location of the tumor and the stage of the disease. Medical professionals treat this cancer with radiation, chemotherapy, and surgery.
The symptoms of tongue cancer include a sore throat or pain when swallowing, a sore spot in the mouth that doesn't heal, or a discolored, reddish-pink or gray spot on the tongue that does not heal. Patients might also experience bleeding from the tongue or numbness of the mouth. Rarely, individuals might experience ear pain or changes in the voice. Patients who have advanced cancer might develop liver problems or anemia.
Squamous cell carcinoma of the tongue usually affects people over 50 years old, and men develop the disease at three times the rate of women. About 80% of all people who develop tongue cancer are smokers. Other risk factors include chewing tobacco or smokeless tobacco, heavy alcohol use, and chronic oral irritation from dental cavities or other problems in the mouth.
Medical professionals diagnose the disease by performing a biopsy of the area that is affected. They might also perform chest X-rays to look for cancer in the lungs or order a computed tomography (CT) scan of the neck and head to look for cancer in the lymph nodes. In a procedure called endoscopy, a healthcare professional inserts a tiny camera on a long, narrow tube into the body to screen for tumors or cancerous cells in the larynx, bronchial tubes, or esophagus.
Small tumors on the tongue can be surgically removed. Patients whose cancer has spread to the lymph nodes might require an additional surgical procedure called neck dissection. This procedure often results in the loss of one or both lymph nodes, but it lessens the possibility of the cancer returning. Patients might also be treated with radiation or chemotherapy.
The surgery for squamous cell carcinoma of the tongue is often disfiguring. Some patients choose to have reconstructive surgery after the tumor is removed. Tongue cancer patients sometimes have problems speaking, eating, or swallowing after their operation.
The prognosis for survival varies depending upon the patient. Those whose cancer is diagnosed early have about a 70% chance of remaining cancer-free for five years after treatment. The odds drop to about 30% for individuals who are diagnosed in later stages of the disease. Patients whose cancer has spread to the lymph nodes or lungs by the time of diagnosis typically have less than a 50% chance of survival.