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 risk factors."
AdvertisementResearchers 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.