What is the survival rate for tongue cancer?

In general, the survival rate for tongue cancer is around 50 percent, slightly higher at five years and slightly lower at 10 years. As with many types of cancer, survival rates for tongue cancer are highly dependent on the stage at which the cancer was diagnosed. If the cancer was detected at a localized stage, where it was confined to the tongue, there is about a 75 percent chance of survival over five years. The five-year tongue cancer survival rate for cancer that was in the regional stage, meaning it had spread to nearby lymph nodes, before diagnosis is just over 50 percent. If the cancer was diagnosed after it had receded, meaning it had spread throughout the body, the five-year survival rate for tongue cancer is about 30 percent.

Tongue cancer is a type of oral cancer that begins in the flat cells that cover the tongue. Cancer that begins in the front two-thirds of the tongue is considered a type of oral cavity cancer, and cancer that begins in the back third is a type of oropharyngeal or throat cancer. Tongue cancer is not very common and most people diagnosed are between 60 and 70 years old.

Symptoms of tongue cancer include patches on the tongue, sores that do not heal, bleeding in the mouth, tongue pain, difficulty swallowing, a lump in the neck, and persistent ear pain. Oral cancer cells can spread to lymph nodes and other tissues in the neck. They can also eventually spread to other parts of the body, including the lungs, liver, and bones.

To diagnose tongue cancer, a doctor will remove a small piece of tissue to look for cancer cells. This procedure, called a biopsy, is the only way to accurately detect tongue cancer. To see if the cancer has spread, a doctor may perform a number of tests, including x-rays, computed tomography (CT) scans, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans, endoscopy, and positron emission tomography (PET) scans.

Treatment for tongue cancer may include surgery to remove a tumor, radiation therapy to deliver high-energy rays to tumors, chemotherapy to kill cancer cells, or targeted therapy that specifically affects oral cancer cells. Treatments for tongue cancer can seriously affect a patient's ability to speak, eat, and swallow, and can cause significant dental problems. Risk factors for tongue cancer include excessive tobacco and alcohol use, human papillomavirus (HPV), and betel nut consumption, which are common in some parts of Asia. Someone who has been diagnosed with oral cancer has a high chance of cancer recurrence.

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