Tongue cancer care at Mayo Clinic
Mayo Clinic experts will work with you to determine which treatments will best meet your goals. Your options for tongue cancer treatment depend on the type of tongue cancer you have, its location and its stage. Your treatment team also considers your preferences and works to create a personalized plan that's most effective for your particular situation.
Tongue cancer treatments have the potential to impact your speaking and swallowing, so your care team strategically plans treatments that will allow you to maintain as much function as possible.
Mayo Clinic head and neck surgeons have extensive experience treating tongue cancer. Surgeons often partner with pathologists, who analyze tissue during surgery to make sure all of the cancer has been removed.
Approaches used during tongue cancer surgery may include:
- Transoral surgery. At Mayo Clinic, surgeons remove most tongue cancer through the mouth (transoral surgery). To remove the cancer, doctors may use cutting tools or lasers during surgery.
- Transoral robotic surgery. Head and neck surgeons offer transoral robotic surgery, which provides more-precise access to cancers at the base of the tongue. Typically this surgery is safe and effective and enables faster recovery times compared with standard surgical approaches.
- Open surgery. In certain cases, such as with large cancers or cancers that have spread in the neck, surgeons may use an approach that uses a large incision in the neck to remove the cancer.
Sentinel node biopsy. In order to determine whether cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes, your surgeon may recommend a sentinel node biopsy.
During this procedure, a blue dye or radioactive tracer is injected near the cancer site. The doctor follows the path of the tracer to the first lymph node (sentinel node). This node is removed and tested for cancer.
If the sentinel node doesn't contain cancer, it's unlikely that other lymph nodes contain cancer. If the sentinel node is cancerous, the surgeon may remove other lymph nodes in the neck for testing.
- Reconstructive surgery. People with advanced tumors who experience face, jaw or neck disfigurement after tumor removal may need reconstructive surgery. Head and neck surgeons work with surgeons in plastic and reconstructive surgery to restore the appearance of the face, jaw or neck and use of the mouth. Experts in oral and face (maxillofacial) surgery also may be involved.
Radiation therapy uses high-powered beams of energy, such as X-rays and protons, to kill cancer cells. Radiation therapy may be an option for early or advanced tongue cancer.
Mayo Clinic radiation oncologists have access to the most advanced radiation therapy treatments, such as intensity-modulated radiation therapy, which precisely targets radiation to tumor cells and limits radiation exposure to nearby normal tissue, and brachytherapy, which places radioactive material close to the tumor site.
Mayo Clinic also offers proton therapy to precisely deliver radiation with less damage to surrounding tissue.
Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy may be used along with radiation therapy to treat locally advanced tongue cancer. For tongue cancer that has recurred or has spread to other areas of the body, chemotherapy may be recommended to slow the growth of the cancer.
Targeted therapy drugs alter specific aspects of cancer cells that fuel their growth. These drugs can interrupt the spread and growth of specific tongue cancer cells. Targeted therapy is often used in combination with chemotherapy or radiation therapy.
Some people need help to improve their swallowing and speech function during and after tongue cancer treatment. At Mayo Clinic, you have access to a variety of experts to help you cope and recover, including specialists in speech and swallowing, physical therapists, occupational therapists, and dietitians.
If cancer or treatment makes it difficult for you to eat enough to get all the nutrients you need, your doctor may recommend tube feeding (enteral nutrition).
The Nicotine Dependence Center at Mayo Clinic can help people who want to stop using tobacco. Continuing to use tobacco increases your risk of a tongue cancer recurrence.
Palliative care is specialized medical care that focuses on providing relief from pain and other symptoms of a serious illness. At Mayo Clinic, palliative care specialists work with you, your family and your other doctors to provide an extra layer of support that complements your ongoing care.
Palliative care is provided by a team of doctors, nurses and other specially trained professionals. Palliative care teams aim to improve the quality of life for people with cancer and their families. This form of care is offered alongside curative or other treatments you may be receiving.
Expertise and rankings
Mayo Clinic doctors are widely respected for their experience and expertise in diagnosing and treating tongue cancers.
Your Mayo Clinic care team
At Mayo Clinic, ear, nose and throat specialists (otorhinolaryngologists) work with radiation oncologists, oncologists, pathologists, radiologists and oral and maxillofacial surgeons as a multidisciplinary team that provides whole-person care for people with tongue cancer. Other professionals are included as needed.
Advanced diagnosis and treatment
Mayo Clinic doctors have access to the latest tongue cancer treatment options. Examples include transoral robotic surgery, intensity-modulated radiation therapy and proton therapy.
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.
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.
Nationally recognized expertise
Mayo Clinic doctors have extensive experience caring for people with tongue cancer. More than 700 people with tongue cancer receive care at Mayo Clinic each year.
Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., Mayo Clinic in Phoenix/Scottsdale, Ariz., and Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Fla., are ranked among the Best Hospitals for cancer by U.S. News & World Report.
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.
Locations, travel and lodging
Mayo Clinic has major campuses in Phoenix and Scottsdale, Arizona; Jacksonville, Florida; and Rochester, Minnesota. The Mayo Clinic Health System has dozens of locations in several states.
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Costs and insurance
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.
Learn more about appointments at Mayo Clinic.
Please contact your insurance company to verify medical coverage and to obtain any needed authorization prior to your visit. Often, your insurer's customer service number is printed on the back of your insurance card.