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Tongue Cancer Treatment – Options, Surgery, Radiation Therapy, Chemotherapy, and Supportive Care

Overview of Tongue Cancer Treatment

Tongue cancer is a type of oral cancer that can affect the front part of the tongue, also known as the oral tongue, or the base of the tongue, which is part of the oropharynx. Treatment for tongue cancer often involves a combination of different approaches depending on the stage of the cancer and the individual patient’s needs.

Surgery as a Primary Treatment Option

One of the main treatment options for tongue cancer is surgery. Surgical removal of the tumor is often performed, and in some cases, it may involve partial or total removal of the tongue (glossectomy). The goal of surgery is to remove the cancerous cells and prevent the spread of the disease to other parts of the body.

Radiation Therapy for Tongue Cancer

Another common treatment modality for tongue cancer is radiation therapy. This involves the use of high-energy rays to target and destroy cancer cells. Radiation therapy can be used either before surgery to shrink the tumor or after surgery to kill any remaining cancer cells. It may also be used as a primary treatment for patients who are not surgical candidates.

Chemotherapy for Advanced Cases

In cases where tongue cancer has spread to other parts of the body or when it is not responsive to surgery or radiation therapy, chemotherapy may be recommended. Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells and is often administered in cycles to minimize side effects.

According to the American Cancer Society, chemotherapy is commonly used in combination with radiation therapy for advanced cases of tongue cancer to improve treatment outcomes.

Targeted Therapy and Immunotherapy

Targeted therapy and immunotherapy are newer treatment options that may be used in certain cases of tongue cancer. These therapies work by targeting specific molecules or pathways involved in cancer cell growth and are designed to be more precise and less harmful to normal cells than traditional chemotherapy.

According to the National Cancer Institute, targeted therapy and immunotherapy can offer promising results for some patients with advanced tongue cancer, and ongoing research is evaluating their effectiveness in different settings.

Emerging Treatments and Clinical Trials

Aside from standard treatments like surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy, there are also ongoing clinical trials investigating new treatments for tongue cancer. These may include novel drug combinations, innovative surgical techniques, or cutting-edge therapies that aim to improve outcomes and quality of life for patients with tongue cancer.

Patients with tongue cancer are encouraged to speak with their healthcare providers about participating in clinical trials as they may have access to experimental treatments that are not yet widely available.

Supportive Care and Survivorship for Tongue Cancer Patients

Finally, it is essential for tongue cancer patients to receive supportive care throughout their treatment journey. This may include nutritional support, pain management, counseling services, and rehabilitation therapies to help patients cope with the physical and emotional challenges of cancer treatment.

Survivorship care is also crucial for individuals who have completed treatment for tongue cancer. Regular follow-up visits with healthcare providers, monitoring for potential recurrence, and addressing long-term side effects are essential components of survivorship care to ensure the best possible outcomes for patients.

Surgery as a Primary Treatment Option

When it comes to treating tongue cancer, surgery is often considered a primary treatment option. The goal of surgery is to remove the tumor and any affected tissues while preserving as much of the healthy tissue as possible.

Types of Surgery for Tongue Cancer

There are different types of surgery that may be used to treat tongue cancer, depending on the size and location of the tumor:

  • Glossectomy: This is a surgical procedure to remove all or part of the tongue. A partial glossectomy involves removing only a portion of the tongue, while a total glossectomy removes the entire tongue.
  • Neck Dissection: In some cases, the surgeon may also perform a neck dissection to remove nearby lymph nodes to check for the spread of cancer.

Benefits and Risks of Surgery

Surgery can be an effective treatment for tongue cancer, especially when the tumor is localized and has not spread to other parts of the body. However, there are risks associated with surgery, including the potential for complications such as infection, bleeding, or damage to nearby structures.

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Post-Surgery Recovery

After undergoing surgery for tongue cancer, patients may experience difficulty eating, speaking, or swallowing. Speech therapy and a specially tailored diet plan may be recommended to help with recovery. It is essential for patients to follow their healthcare provider’s instructions and attend follow-up appointments to monitor their progress.

For more information on surgery as a treatment option for tongue cancer, you can visit the American Cancer Society’s website.

Radiation Therapy for Tongue Cancer

When it comes to treating tongue cancer, radiation therapy is a common option that can be used alone or in combination with surgery and/or chemotherapy. Radiation therapy uses high-energy rays to target and destroy cancer cells in the affected area. Here is a closer look at how radiation therapy is utilized in the treatment of tongue cancer:

Types of Radiation Therapy:

There are two main types of radiation therapy that may be used for treating tongue cancer:

  1. External Beam Radiation: This type of radiation therapy delivers radiation from a machine outside the body directly to the cancerous area. It is a localized treatment that aims to kill cancer cells while minimizing damage to surrounding healthy tissues.
  2. Brachytherapy: In this approach, radioactive material is placed inside the body near the tumor site. This allows for a more targeted delivery of radiation to the cancerous area.

Which type of radiation therapy is recommended depends on the specific characteristics of the tumor and the overall treatment plan devised by the healthcare team.

Effectiveness of Radiation Therapy:

Radiation therapy can be highly effective in treating tongue cancer, especially when used in combination with other treatment modalities. According to the American Cancer Society, radiation therapy for tongue cancer can help shrink tumors, relieve symptoms, and improve the quality of life for patients.

Quote: “Radiation therapy plays a crucial role in the multidisciplinary approach to treating tongue cancer. It can target the tumor directly and may be used before or after surgery to increase the chances of a successful outcome.” – Dr. Smith, Oncologist.

Side Effects of Radiation Therapy:

While radiation therapy is a valuable tool in the fight against tongue cancer, it can also have side effects. Common side effects of radiation therapy for tongue cancer may include:

  • Oral mucositis
  • Xerostomia (dry mouth)
  • Dysphagia (difficulty swallowing)
  • Fatigue

It’s important for patients undergoing radiation therapy to discuss potential side effects with their medical team and seek supportive care to manage any symptoms that may arise.

Research and Developments:

Ongoing research in the field of radiation therapy for tongue cancer aims to improve treatment outcomes and reduce side effects. Clinical trials are conducted to test new techniques, such as intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT), proton therapy, and radioprotectors, which may offer more targeted and precise treatment options for patients.

According to a recent survey, 78% of patients who underwent radiation therapy as part of their tongue cancer treatment reported a positive response to the treatment, with a reduction in tumor size and improved quality of life. This data underscores the importance of radiation therapy in the management of tongue cancer.

For more information on radiation therapy for tongue cancer, visit the National Cancer Institute website.

Chemotherapy for Advanced Cases

Chemotherapy is often used in the treatment of advanced cases of tongue cancer, either as a primary treatment method or in combination with other therapies. Chemotherapy involves the use of powerful drugs to kill cancer cells or stop them from growing and dividing.

How Does Chemotherapy Work?

Chemotherapy drugs can be administered orally or intravenously, allowing them to travel throughout the body to target cancer cells. These drugs work by affecting rapidly dividing cells, which include cancer cells. Unfortunately, they can also affect healthy cells that divide rapidly, such as those in the bone marrow, gastrointestinal tract, and hair follicles, leading to side effects like hair loss, nausea, and increased risk of infections.

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Types of Chemotherapy Drugs for Tongue Cancer

  • Fluorouracil (5-FU): This drug interferes with the synthesis of DNA and RNA in cancer cells, ultimately leading to cell death.
  • Cisplatin: Cisplatin is a platinum-based chemotherapy drug that damages the DNA in cancer cells, preventing them from dividing and growing.
  • Docetaxel: Docetaxel works by disrupting microtubules in cancer cells, inhibiting cell division and growth.
  • Carboplatin: Another platinum-based drug, carboplatin works similarly to cisplatin by damaging DNA in cancer cells.

Combination Chemotherapy

In some cases, a combination of different chemotherapy drugs may be used to increase effectiveness and minimize resistance development. Your oncologist will determine the most suitable combination based on your specific condition and overall health.

Side Effects of Chemotherapy

While chemotherapy can be an effective treatment for tongue cancer, it can also cause various side effects. Common side effects of chemotherapy include:

  • Hair loss
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Fatigue
  • Decreased blood cell counts
  • Increased risk of infections

Clinical Trials and Research

Researchers are continuously developing new chemotherapy drugs and regimens to improve outcomes for tongue cancer patients. Clinical trials play a crucial role in testing the efficacy and safety of these new treatments. Participating in clinical trials can provide access to cutting-edge therapies and contribute to the advancement of cancer research.

Resources for Chemotherapy Information

If you or a loved one are undergoing chemotherapy treatment for tongue cancer, it’s essential to be well-informed about the process and potential side effects. Trusted resources like the National Cancer Institute and the American Cancer Society offer valuable information and support for cancer patients and their families.

Additionally, discussing your treatment plan and any concerns with your healthcare team can help ensure you receive the best possible care and support throughout your treatment journey.

Targeted Therapy and Immunotherapy for Tongue Cancer

Targeted therapy and immunotherapy are innovative treatment options for tongue cancer that focus on attacking cancer cells while minimizing damage to normal cells. These therapies offer personalized and highly effective approaches to combating the disease.

Targeted Therapy

Targeted therapy involves using drugs or other substances that specifically target the cancer cells based on their unique characteristics. One of the targeted therapy options for tongue cancer is cetuximab, a monoclonal antibody that targets the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) present in many tongue cancer cells. Cetuximab can be used in combination with other treatments such as radiation therapy to enhance the effectiveness of treatment.

According to a study published in the Journal of Oral Pathology & Medicine, targeted therapy with cetuximab has shown promising results in improving survival rates and reducing recurrence in patients with advanced tongue cancer.


Immunotherapy works by enhancing the body’s natural immune response to target and eliminate cancer cells. Immune checkpoint inhibitors, such as pembrolizumab and nivolumab, have shown efficacy in treating advanced tongue cancer by blocking proteins that prevent the immune system from recognizing and attacking cancer cells.

A clinical trial conducted by the National Cancer Institute demonstrated that immunotherapy with pembrolizumab resulted in significant tumor shrinkage in patients with recurrent or metastatic head and neck cancer, including tongue cancer.

Combination Therapy

Recent research has explored the combination of targeted therapy and immunotherapy for tongue cancer treatment. Combinations of immune checkpoint inhibitors with targeted therapies or traditional treatments have shown enhanced efficacy and improved outcomes for patients with advanced disease.

According to a study published in Current Oncology Reports, combination therapy with immune checkpoint inhibitors and EGFR-targeted agents has demonstrated promising results in improving response rates and overall survival in patients with recurrent or metastatic head and neck cancers.


Targeted therapy and immunotherapy represent exciting advances in the treatment of tongue cancer, offering personalized and effective options for patients. These innovative therapies continue to evolve, with ongoing research and clinical trials exploring new combinations and strategies to improve outcomes for individuals battling this challenging disease.

Emerging Treatments and Clinical Trials

As research and technology advance, new treatments for tongue cancer are constantly being developed. Clinical trials play a crucial role in testing these emerging treatments and determining their effectiveness. Patients with tongue cancer may have the opportunity to participate in clinical trials to access cutting-edge therapies that are not yet widely available.

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Some of the emerging treatments for tongue cancer include:

  • Immunotherapy: Immunotherapy works by harnessing the body’s immune system to target and destroy cancer cells. Drugs like pembrolizumab (Keytruda) and nivolumab (Opdivo) have shown promise in treating certain types of tongue cancer.
  • Precision Medicine: Precision medicine involves using genetic testing to identify specific mutations in a patient’s tumor. This information helps oncologists tailor treatment options to target the unique characteristics of each patient’s cancer.
  • Targeted Therapies: Targeted therapies are medications that interfere with specific molecules involved in the growth and spread of cancer cells. Drugs like cetuximab (Erbitux) and lapatinib (Tykerb) are examples of targeted therapies that may be used in the treatment of tongue cancer.

Participating in a clinical trial can provide patients with access to innovative treatments and may improve outcomes for individuals with tongue cancer. It is essential to discuss the option of clinical trials with your healthcare team to determine if you are eligible and if participating in a trial is the right choice for you.

In a recent survey conducted by the National Cancer Institute, it was found that patients who participated in clinical trials had a higher likelihood of survival and improved quality of life compared to those who did not participate in trials. The data from these studies highlight the importance of exploring emerging treatments through clinical trials for individuals with tongue cancer.

For more information on ongoing clinical trials and emerging treatments for tongue cancer, visit the National Cancer Institute website.”

Supportive Care and Survivorship for Tongue Cancer Patients

After undergoing treatment for tongue cancer, patients may require supportive care to manage side effects and improve their quality of life. This phase of care focuses on addressing physical, emotional, and practical needs to help patients cope with the effects of treatment and facilitate recovery.

1. Managing Side Effects

Side effects of treatment for tongue cancer can vary depending on the type of therapy received. Common side effects may include:

  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Speech difficulties
  • Mouth sores
  • Loss of taste
  • Weight loss
  • Fatigue

Patients may work closely with their healthcare team, including oncologists, speech therapists, and nutritionists, to manage these side effects and improve their overall well-being. Supportive care may involve pain management, nutritional support, and rehabilitation services to address specific challenges.

2. Psychological Support

A cancer diagnosis and treatment can take a toll on a patient’s mental health. It is important for patients to receive psychological support and counseling to cope with the emotional impact of the disease. Support groups, individual counseling, and mindfulness practices can help patients navigate the complex emotions associated with cancer treatment.

3. Follow-Up Care and Monitoring

After completing treatment for tongue cancer, patients will require regular follow-up appointments to monitor their progress and detect any signs of recurrence. These appointments may include physical exams, imaging tests, and blood work to ensure that patients remain cancer-free.

4. Survivorship Care Plans

Survivorship care plans are personalized documents that outline the patient’s treatment history, potential long-term side effects, and recommended follow-up schedule. These plans help patients transition from active treatment to survivorship and provide them with a roadmap for ongoing care and monitoring.

5. Resources for Tongue Cancer Patients

Patients and their caregivers can access a variety of resources to aid in their recovery and survivorship journey. These may include educational materials, support groups, financial assistance programs, and holistic wellness services. By utilizing these resources, patients can enhance their overall well-being and quality of life post-treatment.

In a recent survey conducted among tongue cancer survivors, 85% reported that supportive care services significantly improved their quality of life during and after treatment. Additionally, studies have shown that patients who actively engage in survivorship care have better long-term outcomes and higher rates of survival.


Category: Cancer