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Oral Tongue Cancer

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The diagnosis of cancer in a patient is often accompanied by disbelief and feelings of helplessness. The feeling of helplessness may be partly due to a lack of knowledge and awareness of the many treatment options available.
This series of brochures will provide you information on common head and neck cancers, focusing on the following:

  • Common causes and symptoms
  • Investigations required
  • Treatment options available

For more information about the condition and treatment options, please consult a head and neck cancer specialist.

Cancer Patient Services

The Department of Otorhinolaryngology (Ear, Nose, Throat) in Tan Tock Seng Hospital offers the following services in relation to head and neck cancers:

  1. Diagnosis of the cancer
  2. Appropriate staging of the cancer
  3. Treatment – every cancer patient is discussed with a multi-disciplinary team to identify the most ideal evidence-based treatment
  4. Long-term follow up and monitoring to ensure the cancer does not return

Oral Tongue Cancer

​Main Causes

  • Smoking
  • Excessive alcohol consumption
  • Betel nut chewing
  • Trauma from sharp teeth

However, patients with no previous history of smoking or excessive alcohol intake may also be diagnosed with this cancer.

Common Symptoms

  • Tongue ulcer
  • Growth on the tongue
  • Bleeding from the growth or ulcer
  • Pain in the tongue
  • Difficulty in eating
  • Lymph gland enlargement in the neck

oral tongue cancer.png

Cancer arising from the tongue.

Examinations and Tests

Your doctor will examine the growth / ulcer on the tongue and check if the adjacent structures (e.g. floor of the mouth and the jaw bone) are affected.
Two types of investigations are required:

  1. Biopsy of the lump on the tongue to determine the presence of cancer
  2. Scans to determine the spread of the disease to the tongue, neck and other organs. Commonly-performed scans include:
    • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scan of the tongue and neck
    • Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scan of the whole body


The treatment of tongue cancers depends on the stage of disease:

  • Early stage: Surgical removal of the tongue tumour and in certain cases, removal of lymph glands from the neck.
  • Advanced stage: Surgery and radiotherapy OR chemoradiotherapy

Surgical removal of a tongue tumour will affect your speech and eating. The degree of impairment depends on the size of the tumour and the amount of tongue that is surgically removed.
Your doctors may recommend reconstruction of the tongue when necessary, and refer you for speech and swallowing rehabilitation.

Cancer Care Management

We work closely with other medical specialists and allied health professionals to ensure the most ideal

oral tongue cancer icons.png

Our aim is the same as yours – to fight off the cancer and return you to an ideal quality of life.

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