Tongue Cancer Treatment

What are the most common tongue cancer treatment options?

While each case of tongue cancer requires a unique approach to treatment, below is a list of the most common tongue cancer treatment options and a little more about each one. In some cases just one form of treatment is used, and in many cases some combination of the three are used to treat tongue cancer.

Surgery for Tongue Cancer Treatment

Surgery is often the recommended tongue cancer treatment for individuals with small tumors on the tongue. It usually involves removal of the tumor and possibly other tissue that has been or may be affected by cancer cells. This can lead to the total or partial removal of the tongue (called a glossectomy). Common side effects of surgery on the tongue include:

  • Pain
  • Feeling tired or weak
  • Swelling
  • Difficulty chewing, swallowing or talking

Radiation for Tongue Cancer Treatment

Radiation is a common tongue cancer treatment option for individuals with larger tumors and those who cannot have surgery. It is often preferred to surgery because it causes less problems with speech and swallowing. It is also used to shrink a tumor before surgery or to kill any remaining cancer cells after surgery. Radiation uses high-energy rays to kill the cancer cells, but with this also comes some side effects. Some of these include:

  • Sore throat or mouth
  • Dry mouth
  • Tooth decay
  • Sore or bleeding gums
  • Infection in the mouth
  • Fatigue
  • Changes in how food tastes and smells

Chemotherapy for Tongue Cancer Treatment

Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells and it is most often used to treat advanced cases of tongue cancer that have spread to other parts of the body. It is most common for the chemo drugs to be administered through a vein for tongue cancer treatment, although a pill is sometimes given. The drugs enter your bloodstream and travel throughout your body targeting cells that reproduce quickly. While this type of quickly reproducing cells include cancer cells, chemotherapy also affects other types of healthy cells. This leads to a variety of side effects, which can include (but are not limited to):

  • Fatigue
  • Loss of hair
  • Mouth, gum and tooth pain
  • Dry mouth
  • Mouth and lip sores
  • Higher rate of infection
  • Easily bruise and bleed
  • Changes in the taste and smell of food
  • Poor appetite
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea

How should I talk to my doctor about the different tongue cancer treatment options?

Here is a list of questions from the National Cancer Institute that you may want to ask you doctor before you begin tongue cancer treatment. These are designed to help you better understand your cancer and the treatment options available to you.

  • What is the stage of the disease? Has the cancer spread? If so, where?
  • What is the goal of treatment? What are my treatment choices? Which do you recommend for me? Will I have more than one type of treatment?
  • What are the expected benefits of each type of treatment?
  • What are the risks and possible side effects of each treatment? How can side effects be managed?
  • Should I see a dentist before treatment begins? Can you recommend a dentist who has experience working with people who have tongue cancer?
  • Will I need to stay in the hospital? If so, for how long?
  • If I have pain, how will it be controlled?
  • What will the treatment cost? Will my insurance cover it?
  • How will treatment affect my normal activities?
  • Would a clinical trial be appropriate for me?
  • How often will I need checkups?
  • Can you recommend other doctors who could give me a second opinion about my treatment options?

Want more information on tongue cancer and tongue cancer treatment?

Here are links to all of our pages focused on tongue cancer:


What you need to know about oral cancer. National Cancer Institute. Accessed January 8, 2012.

Oral Cavity and Oropharyngeal Cancer. American Cancer Society. Accessed January 4, 2012.


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    All content on this site is for general information purposes only. It is not and should not be considered medical advice or used in place of the advice of a medical professional. Always seek the advice of a doctor or other professional for any medical condition.