Say the word "cancer" and most people think of the most well-known conditions: lung, colon, skin and the like. Although oral cancer – specifically that of the tongue – tends to be an afterthought, the tongue plays a crucial role to eating and speaking. It's therefore just as important to know what to look for in tongue cancer symptoms so your oral health does not threaten these basic functions.
What it tongue cancer
The tongue is divided into two parts. The front two thirds is the oral tongue, whereas the back third is the tongue base. Tongue cancer is one type of oral cancer that occurs on the tissue of the oral cavity. This cancer usually originates in thin, flat cells known as squamous cells, which fully cover the tongue's surface. Any cancer that develops on the tongue base is known as an oropharyngeal cancer. The Indian Council of Medical Research writes that "Tobacco is the single most important risk factor for cancers of the oral cavity including tongue cancers in India."
Tongue cancer symptoms
If you suspect that you might have tongue cancer, consulting your dentist is the first step. He or she will want to perform a thorough oral examination. Before making that call, keep an eye out for these symptoms, which, as described by the Asian Institute of Medical Sciences, can indicate the presence of oral cancer:
- Chronic sore throat.
- Pain when chewing or swallowing.
- Chronic jaw or tongue pain.
- A red or white blemish anywhere in the mouth, especially on the tongue, that will not go away.
- Chronic mouth numbness.
- Trouble moving the tongue or jaw.
Detecting tongue cancer
Having noticed one or more symptoms indicating tongue cancer, it's time to call your dentist. The first step your dentist will take is to perform a basic oral examination. The Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences and Research suggests methods of self-examination in which numerous areas are involved in a proper diagnosis. The report mentions "oral cancer can be diagnosed earlier by self mouth examination, increase awareness in high-risk communities. Early detection has better curing rates and it will also reduce the cost of treatment." It also explains that the oral cavity is accessible for visual examination, and that oral cancers and premalignant lesions have well-defined clinical diagnostic features.
Other detection methods should be performed by a doctor as necessary. An endoscopy, for example, can be used to get a closer look down your throat and into your lungs. X-rays of the jaws, chest and lungs will show if the cancer has spread from the tongue, whereas a CT scan will reveal any potentially malignant tumors. Like an X-ray, an MRI is helpful in determining if the cancer has indeed undergone metastasis, infecting another part of the body. If your doctor can't determine the cause of your symptoms, he may refer you to an ear, nose and throat specialist.
The key to treating any form of cancer is finding it early, before it spreads. Tongue cancer, in particular, has several treatment approaches depending on the infection's size and whether or not it has traveled to the neck's lymph nodes. Small, isolated tumors are removed surgically. Cancer that has spread to these lymph nodes should receive the same treatment, so long as it is followed by radiation therapy sessions to destroy any remaining cells. Of course, chemotherapy is another treatment option you may choose to explore with your primary doctor.
Any form of cancer should be considered a life-threatening condition, and therefore deserves the best medical attention to ensure your course of treatment is ideal for you. Nevertheless, the best way to avoid these tongue cancer symptoms is to live the healthiest life possible. For tongue cancer, this includes maintaining an oral health routine that doesn't just avoid tobacco products, but keeps your teeth and tongue healthy.