What is Tongue Cancer?
What is Tongue Cancer? Tongue cancer is a type of cancer that grows on the cells of the tongue. Tongue cancer most often grows and develops on the squamous cells that exist on the surface of the tongue.
Squamous cells are flat or flat-like cells that line the surface of the mouth, nose, larynx, thyroid, and throat. Tongue cancer most often attacks these squamous cells. Therefore, tongue cancer that originated from this cell is also called squamous cell cancer.
Anatomically, the human tongue consists of two parts, namely the front located in the mouth and the base located near the throat. Tongue cancer can develop in both parts.
Cancer that grows on the front of the tongue is included in the category of oral cancer. While the cancer that grows at the base of the tongue is included in oropharyngeal cancer.
Alcohol and tobacco are thought to be the main cause of tongue cancer because both have carcinogenic properties or are easy to spread cancer. Substances that are carcinogenic generally contain chemical elements that can damage DNA in the cells and trigger the appearance of cancer.
Symptoms of Tongue Cancer
Symptoms that indicate tongue cancer include:
- A sore throat that goes on and on.
- Spots red or white, lumps, or canker sores that do not heal.
- Pain during swallowing.
- Numbness in the mouth that does not go away.
- Bleeding for no apparent reason on the tongue.
- Ear pain (rare).
Some of the above indications may be caused by diseases or infections other than tongue cancer. But you should stay alert and see your doctor if the symptoms last more than three weeks, especially if you are a heavy smoker and often consume alcohol.
Factors Triggering Tongue Cancer
The cause of tongue cancer is not known for certain, but there are certain factors that are believed to trigger the appearance of this cancer. These risk factors include:
- Cigarettes. About 85 percent of head and neck cancers, including the tongue, are caused by tobacco consumption. In addition, passive smokers are also at higher risk for contracting cancer in the head and neck.
- Liquor (alcohol). Consumption of alcohol on a regular basis in a relatively large amount can also increase the risk of tongue cancer. Consumption of alcohol when combined with smoking will increase the risk of someone to contract this cancer.
- Human papillomavirus (HPV). Although rare, HPV virus can cause abnormal tissue growth in the mouth that triggers cancer. Transmission of this virus can occur if you are in direct contact with the skin of people or objects contaminated with the HPV virus or through sexual contact, such as intercourse, anal sex, or oral sex.
- Low oral hygiene. Tongue cancer can also be associated with an injury to the mouth that does not heal. This injury can occur due to broken teeth that injure the inside of the mouth or canker sores that often appear and do not heal. Therefore, it is important to maintain oral hygiene and treat wounds that occur in the oral cavity as soon as possible. The results of a study by the Indonesian Ministry of Health show that people with poor oral hygiene risk 2.3 times higher for oral cancer, including tongue.
The Diagnosis of Tongue Cancer
Just like other types of cancer, the detection of tongue cancer done as early as possible will increase your chances of recovery. The diagnostic process generally includes physical examination and symptoms that you feel, as well as tissue biopsy that is suspected of cancer. If the biopsy results state that you are positive about having oral cancer, your doctor will perform a follow-up examination via X-ray, MRI, Ultrasound, CT Scan, or PET Scan.
In addition, tongue cancer can also be diagnosed through staging and grading methods. The staging method used is the TNM system, which serves to measure how far the cancer has spread.
- T – describes the size of tongue tumors. T1 is the smallest size, and T4 is the largest and deepest measure.
- N – describes the spread (metastasis) in the region of the neck and lymph glands. N0 means no spread is detected through examination or through scans, whereas N1, N2, and N3 indicate the spread of cancer to the region of the neck and lymph glands.
- M – describes the spread (metastasis) to other body parts.
From these staging results, it can be assessed whether you have early oral cancer (can be treated with minor surgery), middle stage cancer (treated with surgery and radiotherapy), and advanced stage cancer (treated with surgery, radiotherapy, and chemotherapy).
Cancer on the front of the tongue is more easily detected than cancer at the base of the tongue. Cancer on the front of the tongue will usually be diagnosed when the cancer is still small so it is easier to handle. While cancer at the base of the tongue tend to be newly detected at an advanced stage, ie when the cancer has enlarged and even has spread to lymph nodes in the neck.
Step Treatment of Tongue Cancer
Methods of treating tongue cancer generally include surgery, radiotherapy, or chemotherapy. The steps chosen depend on the type, location, and severity of your tongue cancer.
If the cancer has not spread beyond the mouth and oropharynx, you are more likely to recover completely. The surgical procedure is the best treatment step to deal with small tongue cancer. This step can be combined with radiotherapy and / or chemotherapy.
Whereas if the cancer has spread to other body parts, such as lymph nodes in the neck, then your chances of getting cured are very small. The main goal of this treatment is to inhibit the development of cancer and reduce symptoms.
If the size of the cancer on your tongue is large, you are likely to have partial or complete removal of the tongue. This great operation is called glosectomy.
After undergoing a glosectomy, the tongue will be reconstructed to replace the raised tongue. But a glosectomy procedure will affect your ability to speak and swallow you permanently.
In addition to removal of cancer cells through glosectomy, the lymph nodes in your neck may be removed. This process aims to prevent the return of cancer cells.
Tongue surgery will cause side effects, one of which causes you difficulty speaking, eating, and drinking. Help from the medical team will be very useful to restore your condition in order to normal activity as usual.
Radiotherapy and chemotherapy will also be applied to assist the prevention process. Both of these steps have side effects such as fatigue, dry mouth, mouth pain, thrush, and nausea. Examples of chemotherapy drugs commonly used are cisplatin, carbloplatin, and fluorouracil.