Tongue Cancer Symptoms, Anatomy And Incidence

Tongue cancer is an emotionally terrifying cancer of the tongue, and it is important to be able to recognize tongue cancer symptoms. It is commonly seen in heavy smokers and in people who drink excessively. This type of cancer involves a tumor or a malignant lesion in any part of the tongue, and could be in the front free-moving part of the tongue or at the base of the tongue in the back.All tongue cancers fall within a large group of cancers commonly called head and neck cancers. If the tongue cancer is in the front two-third part of the tongue, it falls within the oral cancer subgroup. And, if it is primarily in the base of the tongue, which is in the throat, then it is considered a type of oropharyngeal cancer. The oral cancer is a cancer in any part of the oral space, and includes lips, cheeks, palate, the floor of the mouth, or the front two-thirds, the free-moving part of the tongue. The oropharyngeal cancers include cancer occurring in the tonsils, throat or the base of the tongue.The tongue is a special muscular organ which provides multiple functions. It aids us in chewing food, helps us in swallowing the chewed food, and is very important for talking. The tongue also helps to move the saliva around the oral cavity, and to keep the teeth clean. The freely moving front part of the tongue is attached to the floor of the oral space by a flexible structure called the frenum. And the base of the tongue, which is in the upper part of the throat, is fixed to the bone called the hyoid bone. If the tongue cancer at the base of the tongue metastasizes, it may extend into the hyoid bone itself, complicating treatment and recovery.The surface of the tongue looks pinkish-brown, is covered by a layer of mucosal cells, and is rough in appearance. The rough appearance comes from the presence of tiny bumpy structures all over the surface of the tongue which are called papillae. In addition, a rich supply of nerves connects to the taste buds just under the surface. The taste buds are distributed all over the surface of the tongue. Each part of the tongue has taste buds for all known tastes, such as salt, sweet, bitter and sour.Tongue cancer constitutes about 2 to 3% of all cancers in the United States. About 37,000 people are expected to be diagnosed with cancer in their oral cavity or pharynx this year, and about 8,000 people are not expected to survive. Tongue cancer constitutes about 40% of all oral cancers, nearly 15,000 people. In spite of the low incidence, tongue cancer remains one of the deadliest cancers because most tongue cancers are diagnosed at a late stage.The incidence of the tongue cancer in Europe and Japan is similar to that in the U.S., with 40,000 and 10,000 diagnoses expected this year. However, in the Asian countries, including the South Asia, Taiwan, China and Indo-China, the incidence or the oral and tongue cancer is very high, and 30 to 50% of all cancers in the South Asia are oral cancers. In these Asian countries, betel nut chewing, along with tobacco and alcohol contributes to the higher incidence of oral cancer.Tongue cancer is difficult to diagnose early because of ignorance or the lack of awareness, and not due to lack of technology or medical expertise. The early symptoms such as bumps, burning sensation, ulcers or a temporary loss of taste sensation, are often dismissed by patients, and occasionally by their primary care physicians. They are often taken as benign symptoms of canker sores, effect of spicy or hot food, or burns due to hot beverages. When the tumor grows and becomes large, it may develop into open sores and bleed. Tissue biopsy is often needed to confirm the presence of a tongue cancer.Tongue cancer symptoms should be taken seriously, and a doctor should be consulted as soon as they are noticed.