The likelihood of curing tongue cancer can depend on factors such as a person’s overall health and age, the size of the tumor, and whether the cancer has spread beyond the tongue.

Squamous cell cancers are the most common type of cancer that affects the tongue. Lymphomas can also affect the base of the tongue.

The outlook for people with tongue cancer is generally positive, with an overall 5-year relative survival rate of 69%. Survival rates are typically lower if cancer has spread to distant parts of the body.

This article explores whether tongue cancer is curable, including survival rates, potential treatment options, and what to expect after treatment.

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Tongue cancer treatment aims to achieve a complete cure. According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), many doctors will use the term ‘remission’ rather than cure, as they can never be certain cancer will not return.

Remission can be complete or partial. Partial remission is when cancer responds to treatment and shrinks.

Complete remission occurs when a person no longer has any traces of cancer. However, cancer can return even after a person achieves complete remission.

Detecting tongue cancer before it spreads to other body parts typically improves a person’s outlook. The ACS suggests that most people with early stage tongue cancer who receive treatment survive and do not require further treatment.

Survival rates

The 5-year relative survival rates for tongue cancer are:

  • Before cancer spreads: 84%
  • Cancer that spreads to lymph nodes: 70%
  • Cancer that spreads to distant body parts: 41%

Survival rates use previous outcomes of people with cancer to estimate how many people with certain types and stages of cancer will be alive after a fixed period of time.

These survival rates may change depending on factors such as how well a person reacts to treatment and whether cancer grows or spreads.

However, the ACS points out that treatments and outcomes are constantly improving, so people may have a better outlook than these statistics suggest.

Treatment for tongue cancer can vary depending on the extent of the cancer. Doctors may suggest the following treatment options for people with tongue cancer.


Surgery is typically the primary treatment for tongue cancer, particularly in the early stages. Oral cancer surgery that removes all or part of the tongue is known as a glossectomy.

After surgery, a doctor may perform reconstructive surgery to help restore the appearance and function of the affected areas.

People with advanced tongue cancer may receive a combination of surgery and another treatment option.

Radiation therapy

Doctors may use radiation therapy in tongue cancer treatment. The process uses high-energy X-rays or particles to destroy cancer cells or slow their growth.

Radiation can play an important role in treating advanced tongue cancer or for people who may not be suitable for surgery.

A 2018 study suggests that radiation therapy alongside surgery improved outcomes for people with tongue cancer compared with surgery alone.


Chemotherapy treatment involves injecting anticancer drugs into a person’s vein or administering them orally so they can enter the bloodstream to reach most parts of the body.

Doctors may offer chemotherapy alongside other treatment options, such as radiation, particularly for people with advanced cancer that has spread to distant parts of the body.

For advanced tongue cancer, chemotherapy aims to slow further tumor growth and relieve symptoms.

Targeted therapy

Targeted therapy uses medication to identify and attack proteins on cancer cells. This treatment option aims to slow cancer cell growth and may be easier to tolerate than chemotherapy.


Immunotherapy uses the body’s natural defenses to treat cancer by improving the immune system’s ability to attack cancer cells.

Doctors may suggest immunotherapy as part of a treatment plan alongside chemotherapy.

The ACS suggests that most people will experience complete remission after treatment for tongue cancer. However, people will need to attend follow-up care appointments in case their cancer recurs or new tumors develop.

People should also maintain a healthy lifestyle and monitor their health to promptly manage long-term side effects, new health concerns, or tongue cancer recurrence.

The oncology team can provide a survivorship care plan to help a person’s doctor understand their diagnosis, treatment, and ongoing needs.

Follow-up care appointments can continue for several years after successful treatment for tongue cancer. However, the longer a person remains free of cancer, the lower their risk of recurrence is.

Quality of life

A 2020 clinical trial points out that tongue cancer treatment can affect quality of life, particularly when it causes swallowing difficulties. However, the trial’s authors suggest speech therapy improves quality of life scores in relation to this.

People can speak with their doctor for further help if their tongue cancer treatment causes functional difficulties, particularly if this impacts daily life.

A person’s oncology team can provide support such as making referrals to dentists, occupational health, dietitians, and social care to help people navigate quality of life concerns.

Whether or not a person is experiencing ongoing tongue cancer treatment or is currently in remission, support groups may help them cope with their experiences and work through or improve negative feelings.

The National Cancer Institute suggests the following types of support services for people who have or had cancer:

  • survivor wellness programs
  • local or online support groups
  • long-term follow-up clinics
  • pain clinics
  • quitting smoking groups
  • counseling

Learn more about life after cancer.

When the disease is caught early, most people with tongue cancer have a high chance of survival after 5 years. However, this rate decreases if cancer spreads throughout the body.

Tongue cancer remission occurs when there is no longer any trace of cancer in the body. The longer a person remains in remission, the less likely cancer will recur.

People should speak with their doctor about the best treatment options for them and the best post-treatment plan to boost their quality of life.