5 risk factors that put you at high risk of tongue cancer

5 risk factors that put you at high risk of tongue cancer

Oral cancer is known to be the 15th most common type of cancer around the world with 2.1% estimated prevalence rate. It is a type of head and neck cancer that develops in the oral mucosa and comprises a broad spectrum of either benign or malignant tumors. On global comparison, India showed a higher prevalence rate of oral or mouth cancer.

Tongue is the most common subsite for oral cavity cancer, leading to tongue cancer. This cancer is a type of squamous cell carcinoma as it usually develops in the squamous cells.

Symptoms of tongue cancer can be pain, changes in speaking pattern and non-healing ulcers on the tongue.

There are two types of tongue cancer: Oral tongue cancer which affects the part you can stick out and oropharyngeal cancer which affects the base of your tongue. Among these, oropharyngeal cancer is diagnosed only if it has spread to the lymph nodes in your neck.

The rising incidence of tongue cancer may be due to the low awareness of the risk factors of tongue cancer among the people. Understanding the associated risk factor can help to reduce the prevalence rates.

Let’s discuss the common risk factors which can increase your risk of developing tongue cancer:

Risk Factors of Tongue Cancer


Tobacco is known to be the major risk factor of oral cavity cancers, including tongue cancer. Both smokeless or smoked tobacco increases the risk of getting this cancer. The key reason behind this is the tobacco specific nitrosamines (TSNA), which are known to be the most deleterious carcinogen. This carcinogen is responsible for many precancerous lesions (a growth consisting of abnormal cells confined to the lining of the mouth (oral cavity), including tongue).


Alcohol is categorized as group 1 carcinogen and further increases the chances of oral cavity. With tobacco, alcohol works in a synergistic way and adversely affects the oral cavity. Among drinkers, risk of oral cavity cancers becomes six times higher than non-drinkers. Out of a range of oral cancers, cancer of the floor of mouth and tongue, alcohol is a major element of risk.

Betel nut

Betel nut is the fourth commonly utilized psychoactive substance following tobacco, alcohol and caffeine. This nut is known to exhibit genotoxic and mutagenic impact on body tissues which leads to pre neoplastic or neoplastic lesions. The continuous exposure of oral mucosal cells to this species leads to impaired cellular-defence system. This can be dangerous in future and can cause cancerous lesions in the oral cavity.

Human papillomavirus (HPV) infection

HPV is associated with the risk of getting oral cancer including tongue cancer. These infections don’t present any specific symptoms in the mouth and if left untreated can develop into cancer. In an analysis, 48% of tongue cancer cases were detected to have HPV, suggesting the great possibility of HPV as a major reason for tongue cancer.

Poor dental hygiene

Unhygienic tongue and poor dental care can also increase the risk of tongue cancer. Research studies indicate that the overall health of the mouth, teeth, and gums significantly directly impacts the risk of getting oral cavity and oropharyngeal cancer due to changes in the microbiota of the oral cavity.


There is no proven way to get rid of this deadly cancer, but avoiding the above risk factor can decrease your risk of getting this cancer and also prevents it from being mutagenic. Adopting preventive measures such as maintaining oral hygiene, avoiding tobacco and smoking, getting vaccinated for HPV and eating a healthy diet rich in anti-cancer foods can help to stay away from this deadly disease.

To learn more, explore 10 Ways to Prevent Oral Cancer Risk.

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