Tongue cancers are a form of oral cancer that are differentiated by their location in the mouth. The tongue contains two parts: the oral (front) section and the pharyngeal (rear) section.

Cancers that develop in the base of the tongue are called oropharyngeal cancers. UK Markey Cancer Center offers diagnostics and tongue cancer treatment that aren’t widely available in the region.

Ear Nose Throat specialty national ranking badgeTongue cancer at UK Markey Cancer Center

Markey’s tongue and oral cancer team provides expert consultation and ongoing care for patients with cancers of the tongue and mouth.

Using advanced technology and leading-edge medical and surgical interventions, the oral cancer team provides advanced and timely diagnosis and individualized, ongoing care for cancer patients. Each patient is cared for by a team of specialists who meet regularly to discuss individual patient cases and treatment plans. This multidisciplinary team will work with you and your doctor to coordinate a care plan designed to offer the best outcomes.

Markey has provided advanced cancer care for more than 30 years, and we are proud to be the only cancer center in Kentucky designated by the National Cancer Institute. Since 2017, Markey Cancer Center has been nationally recognized as a top 50 cancer center by U.S. News & World Report.

Some tongue and oral cancer symptoms are confused with other medical conditions. Screenings with a primary care provider are important for identifying oral cancer symptoms. Tongue cancer can cause a variety of symptoms, including:

  • Numbness in the mouth
  • Pain in the ear
  • Pain when swallowing
  • Persistent sore throat
  • Red or white patch on the tongue that won’t heal
  • Sore spot or lump on the tongue that won’t heal
  • Unexplained bleeding on the tongue that’s not caused by any injury

According to the American Cancer Society, cancer that is found only in the tongue has a relative five-year survival rate of 82 percent. Regional tongue cancer — which has spread to lymph nodes or structures nearby — has a five-year survival rate of 68 percent. Once tongue cancer has spread to distant sites, the five-year survival rate is about 40 percent.

You can lower your risk of tongue cancer by taking steps to build a healthy lifestyle. Here are some ways you can lower your risk for this disease, as well as improve your overall basic health:

  • Avoid using tobacco products. Tobacco has been tied to multiple cancers, and it is responsible for 90 percent of lung cancer deaths.
  • Stay physically active. Your physical activity is related to risk for colon and breast cancer. Excess weight gained from inactivity increases the risk of multiple cancers.
  • Limit alcohol consumption. It is important to be mindful of how much alcohol you drink. Alcohol intake, even in moderate amounts, can increase the risk for colon, breast, esophageal and oropharyngeal cancer.
  • Learn about screenings. Your primary care doctor can recommend appropriate cancer screenings based on your age, personal risk and family history.

There are several risk factors for developing tongue or oral cancers, including:

  • Age. Tongue cancer and oral cancers are more common in older adults, with 90 percent of patients over age 45.
  • Alcohol abuse. Heavy alcohol use is a primary risk factor for tongue and oral cancer. Researchers found approximately 30 percent of oral cancers are caused by heavy alcohol use.
  • Diet. A diet low in required vitamins and minerals may result in poor oral hygiene or health conditions that increase your risk of tongue cancer.
  • Genetics. Risk of tongue cancer increases if a close family member such as a parent, sibling or child has been diagnosed with oral cancer.
  • Human papillomavirus (HPV). Many forms of HPV exist, and many are harmless and resolve on their own. The form of HPV that infects cell linings in the oral cavity are often spread by sexual activity.
  • Mouth conditions. The existence of thickened white patches on the mucus membranes in the mouth, called leukoplakia, is considered a precancerous condition. It’s associated with heavy alcohol and tobacco use. Poor oral hygiene, jagged teeth or poorly fitted fillings or dentures increase risk for tongue cancer.
  • Tobacco use. Smoking and chewing tobacco is the highest risk factor for developing tongue or oral cancers. The Illinois Department of Health found that 90 percent of patients with oral cancer used tobacco.
  • Weakened immune system. Certain illnesses and medications weaken immune systems, which are critical for fighting infections. Tongue cancer risk is higher in those with weaker immunity.
  • For your first visit, you will be directed to the Head, Neck & Respiratory Clinic on the second floor of the Ben F. Roach Cancer Care Facility. Open Google Maps.
  • You can register at the front desk or registration area, where a Markey team member will help guide you through your appointment.
  • Several parking options are available to patients of Markey Cancer Center.
  • Please remember to bring your patient packet with the completed forms. These items will help your doctor learn more about your case and determine the best plan for your care.
  • To meet our patient needs, UK HealthCare accepts many forms of insurance.  

Clinical trials are research studies aimed at evaluating medical, surgical or behavioral interventions to determine if a new treatment is safe and effective. At Markey, we are advancing cancer care and research to prevent, detect and treat one patient at a time. As a patient at Markey, you have a team of people looking at your individual case and applying the most recent cancer knowledge to give you the best chance of survival.

Markey has more open clinical trials than any other cancer center in the region, giving you access to some of the most advanced options available. Learn more about ongoing clinical trials for treating tongue cancer.

NCI Comprehensive Cancer Center - A Cancer Center Designated by the National Cancer Institute

Markey Cancer Center is designated by the National Cancer Institute as a Comprehensive Cancer Center – a distinction that recognizes our commitment to accelerating precision cancer research and care to patients. We are the first and only NCI-Comprehensive Cancer Center in Kentucky, and one of 57 in the nation.