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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.