What is tongue cancer?
There are two parts to your tongue, the oral tongue and the base of the tongue. Cancer can develop in either. The oral tongue is the part you see when you poke your tongue out at someone, the front two-thirds of your tongue. Cancers that develop in this part of the tongue come under a group of cancers called oral cancer.
The base of the tongue is the back third of the tongue (nb: Michael Douglas). This part is very near your throat (pharynx). Cancers that develop in this part are called oropharyngeal cancers (pronounced oar-o-farin-gee-al).
Types of tongue cancer
The most common type of tongue cancer is squamous cell carcinoma (SCCA). Squamous cells are the flat, skin-like cells that cover the lining of the mouth, nose, larynx, thyroid, and throat. Squamous cell carcinoma is the name given to cancer that starts in these cells.
Symptoms of tongue cancer
The symptoms of tongue cancer may include
- Red/white patch/es on the tongue, that will not go away
- A never-ending sore throat that refuses to settle down
- A consistent sore spot on the tongue
- Pain or slight spasms when swallowing
- Continuous numbness in the mouth
- Unexplained bleeding from a noninjured tongue
- Sometimes even a pain in the ear, though this is very rare indeed
Do bear in mind that these symptoms may be due to a less serious medical condition. But it is important to check symptoms with your GP just to make sure. However, there are many GPs who simply don’t have the knowledge so if the symptoms persist – you persist and get a second opinion! (Michael Douglas was found to have ‘back of tongue cancer’ by his 4th Dr – a specialist)
Risks and causes of tongue cancer
We don’t know the exact causes of most head and neck cancers, but several risk factors have been identified, the largest factor being HPV @ 63%. The rapid increase in these types of cancer has been put down to a relaxing society from the 60’s onwards-‘free love’, ‘flower power’ etc, and the main cause in the older generation has been oral sex. Needless to say, smoking/chewing tobacco (cigarettes, cigars, and pipes) has been named & shamed though it only accounts for 12% of cases whereas drinking a lot of alcohol comes in at 23% (unknowns = 2%) There is information about the risks and causes of mouth cancer in the mouth cancer section.