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Cancer Treatment Centers of America

Tongue cancer

Tongue cancer is a type of oral cancer that forms in the front two-thirds of the tongue. Cancer that forms in the back one-third of the tongue is a different type of head and neck cancer, and is treated differently.

Tongue cancer usually develops in the squamous cells, which are the thin, flat cells that cover the surface of the tongue.

Common tongue cancer symptoms

Symptoms of tongue cancer are very similar to symptoms of other types of oral cancer. These signs are often mistaken for a cold that won’t go away, or a persistent sore in the mouth. Other tongue cancer symptoms may include:

  • Persistent tongue and/or jaw pain
  • A lump or thickening in the inside the mouth
  • A white or red patch on the gums, tongue, tonsil or lining of the mouth
  • A sore throat or persistent feeling that something is caught in the throat
  • Difficulty swallowing or chewing
  • Difficulty moving the jaw or tongue

Treatments for tongue cancer

Common tongue cancer treatments include:

Surgery: Tumor resection involves an operation to remove the entire tumor from the tongue. The procedure may involve minimally invasive surgical techniques, when possible.

Radiation therapy: If radiation therapy is recommended, the radiation oncologist will administer high doses of radiation to cancerous tissues of the tongue using technology designed to spare healthy tissue and shorten procedure times.

Chemotherapy: Often combined with radiation therapy, chemotherapy uses drugs to destroy cancer cells throughout the body. This may be an option if the cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes. Various chemotherapy drugs may be combined to attack cancer cells at varying stages of their growth cycles and decrease the chance of drug resistance.

Targeted drug therapy: Targeted drug therapy works by interfering with cancer cell growth on a molecular level. It is often combined with chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy as part of a patient’s tongue cancer treatment plan.


Last Revised: 06/12/2018

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