Tongue cancer is a form of cancer that begins in the cells of the tongue.

Several types of cancer can affect the tongue, but tongue cancer most often begins in the thin, flat squamous cells that line the surface of the tongue. The type of cells involved in your tongue cancer helps determine your prognosis and treatment.

Where your tongue cancer occurs also affects your treatment. Tongue cancer can occur:

  • In the mouth, where it may be more likely to be seen and felt (oral tongue cancer). This type of tongue cancer tends to be diagnosed when the cancer is small and more easily removed through surgery.
  • In the throat, at the base of the tongue, where tongue cancer may develop with few signs and symptoms (hypopharyngeal tongue cancer). Base of tongue cancer is usually diagnosed at an advanced stage, when the tumor is larger and the cancer has spread into the lymph nodes in the neck.

    Increasingly, base of tongue cancers are associated with human papillomavirus (HPV), which has a profound effect on the prognosis and treatment of the cancer.

Treatment for tongue cancer typically involves surgery to remove the cancer. Chemotherapy, radiation therapy and targeted drug therapy may also be recommended.

Treatment for advanced tongue cancers can impact your ability to speak and eat. Working with a skilled rehabilitation team can help you cope with changes that result from tongue cancer treatment.

  • Collaboration. At Mayo Clinic, ear, nose and throat specialists (otorhinolaryngologists) work with radiation oncologists, oncologists, pathologists and radiologists as a multidisciplinary team that provides whole-person care for people with tongue cancer. Other professionals are included as needed.
  • Experience. Mayo Clinic doctors have extensive experience caring for people with tongue cancer. More than 600 people with tongue cancer receive care at Mayo Clinic each year.

    Your care team is prepared with the knowledge and resources to provide you with exactly the care you need.

  • Access to the latest. Mayo Clinic doctors have access to the latest tongue cancer treatment options. Examples include transoral robotic surgery, intensity-modulated radiation therapy and 3-D conformal radiation therapy.
  • Innovative approach to treatment. Mayo Clinic doctors are studying new treatment protocols for people with HPV-associated tongue cancers that reduce the amount of treatment given and lower the risk of treatment side effects, without sacrificing cure rates.
  • A full range of treatment options to consider. Mayo Clinic doctors will work with you to review all of your treatment options and choose the treatment that best suits your needs and goals. The range of treatments offered to people with tongue cancer includes surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, targeted therapy and clinical trials.
  • Comprehensive cancer center. Mayo Clinic Cancer Center meets strict standards for a National Cancer Institute comprehensive cancer center, which recognizes scientific excellence and a multidisciplinary approach to cancer prevention, diagnosis and treatment.

Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., and Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Ariz., are ranked among the Best Hospitals for cancer by U.S. News & World Report. Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Fla, is ranked high performing for cancer by U.S. News & World Report. Mayo Clinic also ranks among the Best Children's Hospitals for cancer.

At Mayo Clinic, we assemble a team of specialists who take the time to listen and thoroughly understand your health issues and concerns. We tailor the care you receive to your personal health care needs. You can trust our specialists to collaborate and offer you the best possible outcomes, safety and service.

Mayo Clinic is a not-for-profit medical institution that reinvests all earnings into improving medical practice, research and education. We're constantly involved in innovation and medical research, finding solutions to improve your care and quality of life. Your doctor or someone on your medical team is likely involved in research related to your condition.

Our patients tell us that the quality of their interactions, our attention to detail and the efficiency of their visits mean health care — and trusted answers — like they've never experienced.

Why Choose Mayo Clinic

What Sets Mayo Clinic Apart

Tongue cancer treatment at Mayo Clinic depends on your type and stage of cancer. Your team considers your needs to recommend the most appropriate treatment plan that will allow you to maintain as much speech and swallowing function as possible, and may include any combination of the following.

  • Surgery. Whenever possible, Mayo surgeons use transoral robotic surgery, a minimally invasive technique to precisely remove tongue cancer, greatly reducing injury to surrounding healthy tissue and shortening recovery time compared with traditional surgery.
  • Radiation therapy. At Mayo Clinic, you have access to the latest radiation technology, such as intensity-modulated radiation therapy and image-guided radiation therapy.
  • Chemotherapy. Chemotherapy may be offered, depending on cancer size, whether it has spread to lymph nodes or if it has invaded other adjacent organs.
  • Targeted drug therapies. Mayo Clinic experts may use targeted drug therapies, such as monoclonal antibodies, which can interrupt the spread and growth of specific tongue cancer cells.
  • Reconstructive surgery When reconstructive surgery is necessary, experienced Mayo Clinic plastic and reconstructive surgeons, head and neck surgeons, and other specialists work together to restore physical appearance and function to the tongue and surrounding organs.
  • Rehabilitation. If you have extensive surgery or radiation therapy, experienced Mayo specialists in dietetics, speech, swallowing, and physical and occupational therapy help you regain speech and swallowing function.

Read more about mouth cancer treatment.

Mayo Clinic works with hundreds of insurance companies and is an in-network provider for millions of people. In most cases, Mayo Clinic doesn't require a physician referral. Some insurers require referrals or may have additional requirements for certain medical care. All appointments are prioritized on the basis of medical need.

At Mayo Clinic in Arizona, specialists in ear, nose and throat (ENT), radiation oncology, medical oncology, plastic and reconstructive surgery, rehabilitation therapies, and other areas as needed, develop a comprehensive treatment plan for you.

For appointments or more information, call the Central Appointment Office at 800-446-2279 (toll-free) 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mountain Standard Time, Monday through Friday or complete an online appointment request form.

At Mayo Clinic in Florida, specialists in ear, nose and throat (ENT), radiation oncology, medical oncology, plastic and reconstructive surgery, rehabilitation therapies, and other areas as needed, develop a comprehensive treatment plan for you.

For appointments or more information, call the Central Appointment Office at 904-953-0853 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Eastern time, Monday through Friday or complete an online appointment request form.

At Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, specialists in ear, nose and throat (ENT), radiation oncology, medical oncology, oral and jaw and face (maxillofacial) surgery, plastic and reconstructive surgery, rehabilitation therapies, and other areas as needed, develop a comprehensive treatment plan for you.

If you want to stop smoking or chewing tobacco, you can receive help through the Mayo Clinic Nicotine Dependence Center in Minnesota.

For appointments or more information, call the Central Appointment Office at 507-538-3270 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Central time, Monday through Friday or complete an online appointment request form.

See information on patient services at the three Mayo Clinic locations, including transportation options and lodging.

Mayo Clinic's Department of Otorhinolaryngology — Head and Neck Surgery is dedicated to developing new treatment options for people with tongue cancer. Mayo's scientists and researchers collaborate to continually improve care. Areas of research include:

  • Improving and adapting existing robotic surgery systems for use on tumors of the tongue
  • Investigating tumor growth factors for oral cancer
  • Evaluating new methods of use for chemotherapy
  • Evaluating new radiation therapy regimens
  • Investigating the relationship of human papillomavirus (HPV) and oral cancers
  • Researching potential gene therapies

Publications

See a list of publications by Mayo Clinic doctors on tongue cancer on PubMed, a service of the National Library of Medicine.

Jun. 27, 2013