The tongue is a mobile muscular organ that fills a considerable portion of the mouth; it performs numerous functions from tasting to chewing, swallowing and speaking.
Swallowing stands as one of its primary roles, impelling food backwards into the pharynx, alongside forming words.
Cancer of the tongue, specifically squamous cell carcinoma, is one of the most common oral cavity cancers, the only other organ in the region attracting more malignancies being the lip.
The cancer is more common in males than females and rarely occurs in individuals under 40; and while it manifests worldwide, India boasts the highest occurrence of squamous cell carcinoma of the tongue.
The occurrence of malignancies in the head and neck is usually associated with the consumption of alcohol and tobacco, with an astounding 80% of all squamous cell carcinoma occurrences imputed to tobacco smoking as a potential source.
Quantity is an important factor in the development of squamous cell carcinoma; the more smoking that occurs, the greater the chance of manifesting cancerous cells.
This doesn't exclude passive smoking, cigars or tobacco chewing; these risk factors contributing to the change pre-malignant cells may undergo to become cancerous.
Additional risk factors outside the exposure of one's body to irritants within tobacco and alcohol will include chronic viral infections like the herpes simplex and human papilloma virus.
Exposure to asbestos and radiation, dietary considerations, genetic predispositions and poor oral hygiene can and have all played a role in the manifestation of squamous cell carcinoma of the tongue.
Typical investigations for squamous cell carcinoma are applicable for tongue cancer, this including a biopsy of the infected area, X-rays and a procedure known as endoscopy.
As with all cancers, an early diagnosis is crucial; tongue cancers however tend to attract a less than favorable prognosis because they are almost always diagnosed during later stages.
More importantly, patients manifesting squamous cell carcinoma of the tongue as a result of etiological factors such as smoking and alcohol not only have worse survival rates but stand the risk of developing additional malignancies in the neck and head areas, further augmented by the liver and cardiovascular diseases associated with the etiological factors.
When detected early there is a 70% chance of victims of tongue cancer remaining disease free for five years or more after the treatment, this disease free rate falling to 30% in advanced cases. The chances of surviving the cancer are less than 50% for patients whose lungs or lymph nodes have been violated by the cancer.
Tumors on the tongue can be removed surgically in a relatively straightforward manner, this not including situations in which the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes, in which case neck dissection, a surgical procedure, will prove necessary.
Neck dissection often leads to the loss of the lymph nodes, one or both of them, but is crucial in reducing the chances of the cancer making a return.
In more serious and advanced cases, surgical procedures must be combined with radiation and chemotherapy.
Surgical treatments for tongue cancer are often disfiguring, with many a survivor of squamous cell carcinoma undergoing reconstructive surgery to remedy this problem.
Tongue cancer will elicit difficulties in eating and speaking.