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    Cancer of the tongue occurs when cells on the tongue become abnormal and start to grow out of control. This usually starts in very thin, flat cells that line the surface of the tongue (squamous cells). Cancer cells can spread and form a mass of cells called a tumour. The cancer may spread deeper into the tongue, or it may spread to other areas of the body (metastasize).

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    The cause of this condition is not known.

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    This condition is more likely to develop in:

    • People who use tobacco products, such as cigarettes, chewing tobacco, and e-cigarettes. Tobacco use is the number-one risk factor of cancer of the tongue.
    • Men.
    • People who:
      • Are over age 50.
      • Drink alcohol excessively. People who use both tobacco and alcohol are at an even higher risk.
      • Have HPV (human papillomavirus) infection.
      • Do not brush or floss their teeth regularly.
      • Have a family history of tongue cancer.
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    Tongue cancer may start at the front part of the tongue or at the base of the tongue in the back of the throat. Symptoms that you may notice right away include:

    • A lump or sore on your tongue that may be painful, especially when you eat or speak. The lump may not heal. It may bleed easily if you bite it or touch it.
    • Numbness on the tongue.
    • Difficulty moving the tongue and talking.
    • Pain when chewing.
    • A bad odour in the mouth and bad breath.
    • A lump on the neck.

    You may notice symptoms of cancer at the base of your tongue later. These symptoms may include:

    • A feeling in the throat that you are choking, especially when you lie down.
    • Difficulty or pain with swallowing.
    • Difficulty or pain when opening the mouth.
    • A muffled voice or changes in the voice.
    • Ear pain.
    • Coughing up blood.
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    This condition may be diagnosed based on:

    • A physical exam of your mouth, throat, and neck. To look at the back of your mouth and your throat, your health care provider may use a thin, long-handled mirror or a thin, flexible tube that has a light and a camera at the end (fiberscope).
    • Removal and exam of a small number of cells (biopsy) from your tongue or a lump on your neck. The cells are checked under a microscope for cancerous formations.
      Speech sound (standard articulation) tests. For these tests, a specialist listens to you speak to determine whether the cancer has affected your tongue and the air passage through your nose.
    • Blood tests. These tests may include a complete blood count, an electrolytes test, and tests of your kidney and liver function.
    • Imaging exams of your mouth, neck, and body, such as:
      • X-rays.
      • CT scan.
      • PET scan.
      • MRI.
      • Bone scan.

    If cancer of the tongue is confirmed, it will be staged to determine its severity and extent. Staging is an assessment of:

    • The size of the tumour.
    • Whether the cancer has spread.
    • Where the cancer has spread.

    The stages of cancer of the tongue are as follows:

    • Stage 0, carcinoma in situ (CIS). In this stage, abnormal cells that could become cancerous have been found on your tongue.
    • Stage I. Cancer is the size of a peanut or smaller. It has not metastasized.
    • Stage II. Cancer is larger than a peanut but not larger than a walnut. It has not metastasized.
    • Stage III. Cancer has grown larger than a walnut. It may have spread to a lymph node on the same side of your neck as the cancer. Lymph nodes are part of your body’s disease-fighting (immune) system. Lymph nodes are found in many locations in your body, including the neck, underarm, and groin.
    • Stage IV. This stage is divided into three sub-stages, IVA, IVB, and IVC. Cancer has spread to nearby areas. It may have spread heavily into your lymph nodes or metastasized to other parts of your body.

    Cancer may return (recur) after initial treatment (recurrent cancer). Recurrent cancer can occur in the same location or in another part of the body.

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    Treatment for this condition depends on the stage of the cancer. Treatment may include:

    • Chemotherapy. This uses medicines to kill the cancer cells.
    • Radiation therapy. This uses high-energy rays to kill the cancer cells.
    • Targeted drug therapy. This uses medicines that block cancer from growing and spreading.
    • Surgery. This may be done if your tumour is small, has not spread, and is at the front of your tongue. Surgery may also be necessary if the cancer has spread to your lymph nodes or other parts of your neck.
    • A combination of radiation, chemotherapy, and surgery may be used for stage III, stage IV, and recurrent cancers.

    Follow these instructions at home regarding tongue cancer:


    • Take over-the-counter and prescription medicines only as told by your health care provider.
    • Do not drive or operate heavy machinery while taking prescription pain medicine.

    General instructions

    • Return to your normal activities as told by your health care provider. Ask your health care provider what activities are safe for you.
    • Work with your health care provider to manage side effects of treatment.
    • Maintain a healthy diet.
    • Do not use any tobacco products, such as cigarettes, chewing tobacco, and e-cigarettes. If you need help quitting, ask your health care provider.
    • Do not use alcohol.
    • Keep all follow-up visits as told by your health care provider. This is important.

    Contact a health care provider if:

    • You have:
      • Pain in your mouth, throat, or ear that does not get better with medicine or gets worse.
      • Numbness or swelling in your mouth or neck.
      • Bleeding in your mouth.
      • Difficulty swallowing or opening your mouth.
    • You notice changes in the way you speak.
    • You develop new symptoms, such as a lump in your neck.

    Get help right away if:

    • You have severe pain in your neck, mouth, or ear.
    • You have difficulty breathing.
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    A personalised cancer screening consultation is a meeting with a qualified consultant medical doctor to explain to you what does cancer screening mean and facilitate your understanding for the genomic and diagnostic tests that are that can help you to achieve your cancer screening and prevention objectives.

    Your consultant doctor will aim to answer all your questions regarding the cancer screening programmes and tests that could be beneficial for your overall health and wellbeing.

    It is recommended that you book a personalised cancer screening consultation with one of our recognised consultant medical doctors if you have a strong family history of cancer or you have one or more risk factors that may increase your risk of developing a specific type of cancer.

    If you are unable to attend to one of our outpatients’ clinics in London for your personalised cancer screening consultation, our consultant medical doctors can arrange to have your personalised cancer screening consultation by secure and encrypted voice conferencing or video conferencing, which can be done from the convenience of your home and using your smartphone.