Cases of oral tongue cancer are
increasing in young white US females. Researchers do not know the reason for
this increase. Analysis of National Cancer Institute data has revealed a
111% increase in cases of squamous-cell tongue cancer among young white women
while there has been 43.7% increase among young white men over the same period.
Meanwhile, the tongue cancer rates have decreased for people of other age
groups and ethnicities like the African-American. Squamous-cell tongue cancer affects the
thin cells along the lips and oral cavity. The cancer can spread deeper into the
tissue. Compared with breast, lung or prostate cancer the incidence of tongue
cancer is relatively rare. It is usually treated with surgery (excision of the
tongue or lymph nodes), followed by radiation or chemotherapy.
Smoking is not the likely cause for
this rise as several other studies have shown a decrease in tobacco consumption
over the last few years. Similarly they did not find any association between
the rise in cancer cases and the cancer causing human papilloma virus (HPV). Assistant
professor of radiation oncology at the University of North Carolina Lineberger
Comprehensive Cancer Center, Dr. Bhisham Chera said, "I've treated a
handful of these patients, and they're all a higher socioeconomic status. Most
of them — and this is just from what I've examined — are not smokers. They're
college-educated, they're health nuts, and they don't have any of the typical
Researchers did not rule out the possibility of an
unidentified virus causing the cancer in certain groups. To verify if this is
the case researchers are collecting tumor samples from young, white female
patients. To check if any viral genetic material is hidden in the patient's
tumor cells scientists will sequence their genes. Scientists have also cited
eating disorders as another possible cause of the rise in tongue cancer cases. When
a person vomits the stomach acid that comes up can induce some types of cancer.
However more research is need before making this claim. Improved diagnostic
tests could be another possible reason behind this increase.
Chera said, "The bottom line is, who knows what's
causing these cancers? Maybe it's environmental, maybe it's genetic, maybe it's
a combo of both. We don't know yet, but we're going to look at it."This study
has been published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.