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What is the Tongue Cancer Survival Rate?

By Elise Czajkowski
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Overall, the tongue cancer survival rate is about 50 percent — slightly higher over five years and slightly lower over 10 years. As with many types of cancer, tongue cancer survival rates are highly dependent on the stage at which the cancer was diagnosed. If the cancer was caught at a a localized stage, where it was confined to the tongue, there is about a 75 percent chance of survival for five years. The five-year tongue cancer survival rate for cancer that was at the regional stage, which means it spread to nearby lymph nodes, before diagnosis is a little more than 50 percent. If the cancer was diagnosed after it had become distant, meaning that it had spread throughout the body, the five-year tongue cancer survival rate is about 30 percent.

Tongue cancer is a type of oral cancer that begins in the flat cells that cover the tongue. Cancer that begins in the front two-thirds of the tongue is considered a type of oral cavity cancer, and cancer that begins on the back third is a type of oropharnygeal or throat cancer. Tongue cancer is not very common, and most people who are diagnosed with it are 60-70 years old.

Symptoms of tongue cancer include patches on the tongue, sores that do not heal, bleeding in the mouth, tongue pain, difficulty when swallowing, a lump in the neck and a persistent earache. Oral cancer cells can spread to lymph nodes and other tissues in the neck. They also can eventually spread to other parts of the body, including the lungs, liver and bones.

To diagnose tongue cancer, a doctor will remove a small piece of tissue to look for cancer cells. This procedure, called a biopsy, is the only way to accurately test for tongue cancer. To see if the cancer has spread, a doctor might perform a series of tests, including X-rays, computed tomography (CT) scans, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) exams, endoscopies and positron emission tomography (PET) scans.

Treatment for tongue cancer can include surgery to remove a tumor, radiation therapy to blast high-energy rays at tumors, chemotherapy to kill cancer cells or targeted therapy that specifically impairs oral cancer cells. The treatments for tongue cancer can severely affect the patient's ability to talk, eat and swallow, and they can cause major dental problems. Risk factors for tongue cancer include heavy tobacco and alcohol use, the human papillomavirus (HPV) and consumption of betel nuts, which are common in parts of Asia. Someone who has been diagnosed with an oral cancer has a high chance of the cancer recurring.

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Discussion Comments
By anon927163 — On Jan 22, 2014

I was diagnosed with (squamous cell) tongue cancer, stage 4 in Nov. 2012, after my jaw bone crumbled, then broke on the left side.

I had surgery last January, which took half of my tongue, and an attempt to rebuild my jaw and chin with metal plate and chain, and a flap pulled up from inside of chest. This took both of my breasts and a failed attempt. Then, during the first week of Feb.2013, a bone and skin graft was taken from my leg and finally was a success. High five to a great medical team in Augusta, and about 23 1/2 hours of surgery in total.

During the summer I completed six weeks radiation therapy and when the aftermath of that had left me I finally began to feel better, even though I had a feeding tube and still a lot of swelling in my face and neck. I dreamed of the day I could wrap my mouth around a sandwich, a burger, a pizza, and just take a bite. It has been almost two years, although I could eat a little bit and sip from a plastic cup that I could bend in.

On Christmas Eve everything changed, shifted --something. I could no longer eat or drink anything by mouth, and found it more and more difficult to talk as well. As I feared, it confirmed the cancer was back this month, in the golf ball size lump in my neck. So, the next move is surgery since I was told I had already had enough radiation.

As far as survival rates go, I will survive as long as I am allowed, and with each day I pray to find the positive thinking I know I need to feel. As for today, I'm here, alive and kicking. My kicks just aren't as high these days.

By anon336461 — On May 28, 2013

The fact that the survival rate is not that high really upsets me as I just found out a friend of 20 years may have been operated on in the past two months for this. I don't speak to him any longer for reasons unknown, however, I would like to know more about this type of cancer. Where do I get additional information?

By literally45 — On Oct 06, 2012

@MikeMason-- From what we learned in class, five year survival rates for throat and mouth cancers are up to 80%. Yes recurrence is common, but survival rates are much better compared to some other types of cancers.

By fify — On Oct 05, 2012

@MikeMason-- I don't think it's much different for other types of cancer but it really has a lot to do with the individual and how quickly the cancer is progressing. I think one reason tongue cancer survival rate is not as high as we would like is because it keeps coming back like the article said.

I have an aunt who got a tongue cancer prognosis in 2000. She was operated on (they removed that part of the tongue) and she was cancer free for five years. In 2005, the cancer came back and this time she had to undergo chemotherapy. She beat the cancer once again but in 2009, it came back again. She's going through both chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

It's just such a stubborn type of cancer and I think this is impacting the survival rate a lot.

By stoneMason — On Oct 04, 2012

When I saw the 75% survival rate, I thought that it's great but then I saw that it's for five years. So people with tongue cancer have the highest chance of remaining alive for the next five years, but then it keeps decreasing for every additional five years?!

When I think about it this way, it's pretty sad. It means that the survival rate of a tongue cancer patient after 20 years can drop all the way down to 25-35%.

Is this how it usually is with other types of cancer too or does tongue cancer have a low survival rate in comparison?

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