Cancer symptoms: The sign on your tongue that could signal the deadly disease
Cancer refers to any one of a large number of diseases characterised by the development of abnormal cells that divide uncontrollably and have the ability to infiltrate and destroy normal body tissue. Signs and symptoms caused by cancer will vary depending on what part of the body is affected. There are a number of symptoms associated with the tongue that may signal tongue cancer, a type of head and neck cancer.
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According to the NHS, head and neck cancer is a relatively uncommon type of cancer, with around 12,000 new cases are diagnosed in the UK each year, but it is important to watch out for the warning signs to improve treatment outcomes.
As Cancer Research explains, if you notice a red or white patch on the tongue that won’t go away, it could be a sign of tongue cancer.
In addition, other signs on your tongue to watch out for include:
- A sore spot (ulcer) or lump on the tongue that doesn’t go away
- Pain when swallowing
- Unexplained bleeding from the tongue (that’s not caused by biting your tongue or other injury)
“It’s important to remember that these symptoms might be due to a less serious medical condition. But it’s best to check symptoms with your GP just to make sure,” advises Cancer Research UK.
Who is at risk?
It is not clear what causes most head and neck cancers, but several risk factors have been identified.
According to Cancer Research UK, smoking tobacco (cigarettes, cigars and pipes) and drinking a lot of alcohol are the main risk factors for cancers of the head and neck in the western world.
Shedding a light on how smoking can lead to tongue cancer, a study published in the JAMA Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery, found that the location oral cancers differed in smokers and nonsmokers with nonsmokers having a higher proportion of cancers occur on the edge of the tongue.
The analysis, based on data from parties with oral cavity or oropharyngeal cancers seen at an Australian hospital between 2001 and 2011, found that oral cancers occurred on the edge of the tongue in 57 nonsmokers compared with 107 smokers/former smokers.
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To reduce your risk of tongue cancer it is imperative to not smoke or consume tobacco in other ways, such as chewing tobacco, advises the NHS.
It is also vital that you do not drink more than the recommended weekly guideline for alcohol to keep the risk at bay.
The NHS recommends you drink no more than 14 units of alcohol a week. If you drink as much as 14 units a week, it’s best to spread it evenly over three or more days.
Another risk factor is eating a diet low in fruit and vegetables, as Cancer Research UK explained, this might be due to a lack of vitamins and minerals.
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To help counter the threat posed by head and neck cancers, it is therefore important to eat a healthy balanced diet to get enough vitamins and minerals to reduce the risk.
How to treat mouth cancer
According to the NHS, there are three main treatment options for mouth cancer, including:
Surgery to remove the cancerous cells, along with a tiny bit of the surrounding normal tissue or cells to ensure the cancer is completely removed
- Radiotherapy – where beams of radiation are directed at the cancerous cells
- Chemotherapy – where powerful medicines are used to kill cancerous cells
As the health body explains, these treatments are often used in combination, for example, surgery may be followed by a course of radiotherapy to help prevent the cancer returning.
“As well as trying to cure mouth cancer, treatment will focus on preserving important functions of the mouth, such as breathing, speaking and eating. Maintaining the appearance of your mouth will also be a high priority,” explained the health body.
Complications of mouth cancer
Mouth cancer and its treatment can cause complications, however, by affecting the appearance of your mouth and causing problems with speaking and swallowing (dysphagia), says the NHS.
Difficulty swelling is a particular cause for concern, as the health body explains: “If small pieces of food enter your airways when you try to swallow and the food become lodged in your lungs, it could lead to a chest infection, known as aspiration pneumonia.”
Mouth cancer can also take its toll emotionally, as the health site explains: “For example, you may feel down after you’re first diagnosed, but feel positive when the cancer responds to treatment. You may then feel down again as you try to come to terms with the side effects of treatment.”
These emotional changes can sometimes trigger depression, notes the health body.
“You should see your GP if you think you’re depressed. Effective treatments are available for depression, including antidepressants and talking therapies, such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT),” it added
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