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What is the Average Tongue Cancer Prognosis?

By M. DePietro
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Tongue cancer is considered a type of head and neck cancer. About 1,600 people die every year from tongue cancer. Tongue cancer prognosis varies according to several factors, including age of the patient, treatment given, and stage of the cancer. The average five-year survival rate is about 42 percent.

Prognosis is used as a way to inform patients about the most likely outcome of their disease. This is often based on research and statistics. It is important to remember tongue cancer prognosis given to a patient will not always be the actual outcome in his case.

Often, statistics include the five-year survival rate for a disease such as tongue cancer. This is one standard in measuring cancer prognosis. This does not mean a person will only live five years. It means a certain percentage of people are alive five years after diagnosis.

The overall five-year survival rate for tongue cancer takes in to account a lower survival rate for people who have a stage 4 cancer. It also averages in the higher survival rate for people who are diagnosed with a stage 1 case. Stage 4 tongue cancer refers to cancer that has spread to other areas of the body outside the mouth, such as the lungs.

The tongue is made up of two parts. The base is the part of the tongue that extends down the throat, and the oral tongue is the front of the tongue. Tongue cancer prognosis is not influenced by which part of the tongue the cancer afflicts.

Race is one factor that does seem to have some impact on tongue cancer prognosis. According to the National Cancer Institute, white males have the highest five-year survival rate at almost 62 percent. White females have a similar five-year survival rate. Black males only have a 32 percent five-year survival rate. Black females do slightly better, with a 37 percent five-year survival rate.

Tongue cancer prognosis is greatly improved if the disease is found early, so it is essential to recognize symptoms. The most common symptom is a sore on the tongue that does not heal. There may be tongue pain, although the sore can also be painless. Other tongue cancer symptoms may include trouble swallowing and an earache. Although these symptoms may also occur with many other less serious conditions, if they persist, an evaluation by a physician is needed.

Treatment for tongue cancer usually involves surgery. The amount of the tongue that needs to be removed depends on the extent of the cancer. Radiation therapy may also be used. Some people may also have chemotherapy as part of their treatment protocol.

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Discussion Comments
By ZipLine — On Jan 29, 2015

@bluedolphin-- I'm not surprised because tongue cancer is often diagnosed in the advanced stages, when it has spread to the lymph nodes. Treatment is far more difficult at this stage. We should also keep in mind that tongue cancer is fairly rare. Only 2% of oral cancer diagnoses every year is oral cancer. This percentage includes other types of oral cancer in addition to tongue cancer, so tongue cancer is even less common.

By candyquilt — On Jan 28, 2015

@bluedolphin-- Yea, prognosis for this type of cancer isn't great. But what I'm wondering is, when researchers were collecting data for this information, did they only account for tongue cancer, or for oral cancer in general?

Tongue cancer is categorized under oral cancer and I believe most studies talk about it in this context. If that's the case for prognosis data, it's possible that the numbers are a little off, although they will still be close.

By bluedolphin — On Jan 28, 2015

Wow, I'm very surprised to hear about the prognosis of tongue cancer. I can't believe that the five year survival rate is only 42%. I had expected it to be much higher. I'm also surprised by the even lower survival rates of Blacks.

I always thought that the worst part of tongue cancer would be the removal of a large portion of the tongue. This results in long-term issues with eating and speaking. But it never occurred to me that the worst part is a fairly high death rate.

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