Cancer is a condition where cells in a specific part of the body grow and reproduce uncontrollably. The cancerous cells can invade and destroy surrounding healthy tissue, including organs. This destructive process can be hard to spot and subsequently treat because symptoms can be subtle and may only show up when the cancer has advanced.
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Acting on the warning signs of cancer as soon as they appear will therefore greatly improve treatment outcomes.
One subtle but disconcerting symptom of cancer may crop up on your tongue.
If you notice a red or white patch on the tongue that won’t go away, this could signal tongue cancer, according to Cancer Research UK.
Tongue cancer is a type of head and neck cancer.
In addition to a red or white patch on the tongue, you my experience:
- A sore throat that doesn’t go away
- A sore spot (ulcer) or lump on the tongue that doesn’t go away
- Pain when swallowing
- Numbness in the mouth that won’t go away
- Unexplained bleeding from the tongue (that’s not caused by biting your tongue or other injury)
- Pain in the ear (rare)
As Cancer Research UK points out, 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 the charity.
How to treat it
If tongue cancer is detected early enough, surgery may be used, which has a high chance of curing the cancer so it does not come back, according to the NHS.
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“That’s why you should report any changes in your mouth to a dentist and doctor if they do not get better after three weeks,” says the health body.
It adds: “For advanced mouth cancer, you’ll need treatment with surgery, radiotherapy and medicine over a period of at least four months.”
What is radiotherapy?
Radiotherapy is a treatment where radiation is used to kill cancer cells.
It may be used in the early stages of cancer or after it has started to spread.
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Am I at risk?
It is not known the exact causes of most head and neck cancers, but several risk factors have been identified.
Smoking tobacco (cigarettes, pipes, cigars) increases your risk of developing mouth and oropharyngeal cancer.
Research suggests that more than 60 out of 100 (more than 60 percent) of mouth and oropharyngeal cancers in the UK are caused by smoking.
There is some evidence that people exposed to secondhand smoke (passive smoking) at home or in the workplace may have a small increase in their risk of mouth and oropharyngeal cancer too.
Drinking alcohol increases your risk of mouth and oropharyngeal cancer.
Research shows around 30 out of 100 (30 percent) of mouth and oropharyngeal cancers are caused by drinking alcohol.
“Smoking and drinking together further increases the risk of cancer more than either by itself,” warns Cancer Research UK.
What are the recommended guidelines for alcohol consumption in the UK?
UK guidelines recommend a maximum of 14 units of alcohol a week for both men and women.
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