Tongue cancer starts in cells of the tongue. Cancer cells grow out of control and form a tumor. They can invade and damage nearby tissue. Tongue cancer happens most often in squamous or surface cells. It may be seen as a patch or lump in the tongue.
Ear pain—may be caused by large tumors on base of tongue
Changes may start in a part of the tongue that sits in the mouth or in the throat. Cancer that starts in the mouth may be easier to see. This may lead to an earlier diagnosis than those that develop in areas further back in the throat. In late stages, cancer can spread to other areas of the body.
Tongue cancer may first be spotted during a routine dental visit. The doctor may also see it in a physical exam.
The doctor may ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. A scope may be used to see areas further down the throat. A sample of the area may be removed for testing. The test, called a biopsy, will confirm if cancer is present.
Images may need to be taken to see where tumors are. This can be done with:
The care team will use lab tests and images to determine the specific type and stage of cancer you have. Staging is used to guide your treatment plan. Like other cancers, tongue cancer is staged from I-IV. Stage I cancer has not spread far. The higher the stage the further the cancer has spread. Stage IV cancer has spread to other parts of the body