Overview

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). Cancer at the base of the tongue 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, cancers at the base of the tongue 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 also may 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.

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Tongue cancer care at Mayo Clinic

Jan. 23, 2021
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