What Causes Tongue Cancer?

C. Daw

Tongue cancer is a type of cancer that is caused when the cells within the mouth divide in such a way as to be considered out of control. It is caused when the squamous cells form tumors, which can cause them to either become cancerous or stay benign. The exact cause of tongue cancer can be attributed to many different things, but an undeniable fact is that there is no one common cause of tongue cancer. Genes passed down through the generations has a small part in the formation of these tumors, but outside factors such as smoking, chewing tobacco and drinking have also been shown to be common factors that relate to tongue cancer.

A tongue.
A tongue.

There are basically two types of tongue cancer, which are oral and base tongue cancer. The squamous cell carcinoma oral cancer is the form of cancer that happens at the lateral part of the tongue, with possibly a grayish to reddish pink color. This type of cancer is more likely to happen in older people, but it has also been found in teenagers as well. Its common causes are smoking and drinking alcohol, and this type of cancer can cause some serious swallowing and speech problems. The basic methods of treating oral cancer are radiation therapy, surgery, or just the removal of the primary part of cancerous tissue.

Chewing tobacco, which can cause tongue cancer.
Chewing tobacco, which can cause tongue cancer.

The other type is known as base tongue cancer, which is more serious than the oral type. Its common symptoms include severe pain in the tongue, feeling of fullness, and difficulty in swallowing. Due to the usual late diagnosis of this disease, there could be the possibility of metastasis, which is a serious neck disease. The treatment of this type of cancer could be radiation therapy or the surgery. The common causes of these tumors also include the use of tobacco and alcohol products.

The common causes of tongue cancer are smoking and drinking alcohol.
The common causes of tongue cancer are smoking and drinking alcohol.

Even though a common linking factor that has been attributed to tongue cancer is smoking, chewing tobacco, drinking alcohol, and numerous other causes can be found. For instance, heredity and a history of mouth disease can increase the changes of this medical condition. Men, especially over the age of 40, as also more prone to being diagnosed with tongue cancer. All in all, there is no common cause for tongue cancer, and even though there are many factors that can be associated with it, living a healthy lifestyle and eating a proper diet can greatly reduce the instances of this, or any other, type of cancer.

A lump in the neck could be a symptom of tongue cancer.
A lump in the neck could be a symptom of tongue cancer.

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Discussion Comments


I don't disagree that people need to avoid tobacco and alcohol as much as possible if they want to avoid cancer. But I don't think that this topic is as simple or straightforward as it seems.

There are people who get cancer despite never smoking or drinking. And there are people who do both and never get cancer. There is clearly a strong hereditary factor when it comes to cancer and those with the genetic inclination for it will probably get it no matter what.

Having said that, at this point in medicine, there is no clear way to know which group people belong in. The only indicator is family members who have had cancer. So it's best for everyone to take their precautions, stay away from bad habits and try to be as healthy as possible. I just wanted to clarify that there is never one single cause for cancer. It's always a combination of various factors.


@SarahGen-- I completely agree with you. The worst part is that tongue cancer which forms at the base of the tongue is difficult to detect until it's in the advanced stages. Most people find out when the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes and it's basically too late by then. I have a relative who has tongue cancer too and her doctor has put the cause of the cancer to her many years of tobacco and alcohol use.


My uncle was recently diagnosed with tongue cancer. He smoked and chewed tobacco for years. We always warned him about the dangers of tobacco and asked him to stop. But he never believed it and always argued that he'll be fine. Now he regrets it and wishes he had never started using tobacco in the first place.

Despite the widespread warnings about tobacco, people still continue to use this substance. They even put warnings on tobacco packages and it didn't really make a significant difference. People read the "smoking causes cancer" sign and continue on as they know nothing. But according to the latest figures, the five year survival rate of tongue cancer is less than 50%. Even those who survive may have lifelong speaking and eating problems if part of their tongue was removed. This is not a joke and no one can say for certain that they will not get cancer.

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