Tongue cancer is diagnosed when a malignant tumor forms in or on the tongue, according to the University of Michigan. Symptoms of this cancer include white or red patches on the tongue, pain or difficulty chewing and swallowing, voice changes, ear pain, mouth pain or numbness, unusual bleeding, and a persistent sore throat. According to the National Cancer Institute, nearly 11,000 people will be diagnosed with tongue cancer in 2009. One in five will die of the disease. Early detection is essential to survival, as treatment of tongue cancer is more effective when started before the cancer spreads.
Visit your doctor if you have any symptoms of tongue cancer. When detected early, treatment is easier and your prognosis will be better.
Treat your tongue cancer using laser cautery if the tumor is small and does not penetrate into underlying muscle. Laser cautery is generally performed as an outpatient procedure, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Have the tumor and any nearby lymph nodes removed surgically if your tumor is large or your doctor believes your cancer may have spread. Sometimes, numerous lymph nodes and all or part of the tongue may need to be removed.
Undergo radiation therapy to kill any remaining cancer cells following surgery. Radiation therapy uses radioactive isotopes, high-energy X-rays, or electron beams to target cancer cells with minimal damage to surrounding tissue and glands.
Agree to chemotherapy if your tongue cancer has spread to your lymph system or has metastasized to other organs. Chemotherapy involves the use of medications administered orally or intravenously to kill cancer cells throughout the body.
Speak with a plastic surgeon about reconstructive surgery. In addition to restoring some or all oral function, reconstructive surgery can improve your facial appearance following treatment for tongue cancer.
Attend rehabilitative therapy to improve your ability to swallow and speak. The Mayo Clinic states that occupational therapy and physical therapy can help you regain abilities lost due to the cancer or its treatment.
Get fitted for an oral prosthesis to assist with eating and talking, if necessary. Your oncologist or speech therapist can refer you to a prosthodontist who will fit you for the device.
Remember to eat nutritiously both during and after your tongue cancer treatment. Eating well ensures you take in an adequate amount of protein and calories to prevent weight loss and loss of strength. Unless you are using a feeding tube, or have received contradictory instructions from your doctor, you should be able to handle soft, moist foods soon after treatment.
Avoid eating crunchy, sharp foods or items that are spicy or acidic until your tongue is completely healed. Alcohol and sweets also should be avoided as they may irritate the mouth, warns the National Cancer Institute.
Follow up with your doctors as scheduled, even if your cancer appears to be completely healed. Even with the best treatment, cancer cells may remain in the body. Inspect your mouth monthly and report to your doctor any changes in appearance, texture or sensation immediately.