Induction Therapy: Revolutionizing Tongue Cancer Treatment


CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (Ivanhoe Newswire) – Cancer — we all know it’s a tough battle for anyone diagnosed with it. The treatments can be brutal – chemo, radiation, and surgery take a toll on the body, and depending on where the cancer is, living after cancer can be brutal. One such cancer, tongue cancer. For many patients, they may survive, but are left unable to swallow or even speak normally. But now, a new treatment is helping patients return to normal after surviving a tongue cancer diagnosis.

Michael Douglas and Stanley Tucci have more in common than acting – both are tongue cancer survivors.  As in all cancers, it’s a difficult battle, and this cancer comes with its own challenges.

“People are suffering. They need to be cured and they need to be cured with less toxicity now,” emphasizes Jared Weiss, MD, Oncologist at UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center.

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Standard treatment of tongue cancer involves surgery to remove the cancer, followed by chemo and radiation.

Wendell Yarborough, MD Head & Neck Surgeon at UNC Hospitals explains, “People with that amount of tongue that are missing, likely, will have trouble swallowing and could be g-tube dependent the rest of their life.”

Doctors at UNC Hospitals have completed two very successful trials. It’s not yet standard treatment, but some patients choose to pursue this treatment outside of a clinical trial. For patient Tre Bell, induction therapy decreased the size of his tumor from a tangerine to a marble.

“Preserving the amount of tissue we’re able to preserve in him allowed him to speak, which I think is normally, and I think he’s on a regular diet and lives a normal life,” Dr. Yarborough adds.

And most patients did not need radiation after treatment, not only curing them, but improving their quality of life after surgery. Doctors hope a phase three clinical trial will help to change the standard of care for tongue cancers and also believe induction therapy will be used to treat other cancers as well.

Contributors to this news report include: Marsha Lewis, Producer; Matt Goldschmidt, Videographer; Roque Correa, Editor.

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REPORT:        MB #5383

BACKGROUND: Tongue cancer is a type of oral cancer that affects the tongue. There will be almost 20,000 new cases in the United States this year, and over 3,000 tongue cancer-related deaths this year. The five-year survival rate is around 70%. There are three types of tongue cancer: oral tongue cancer, oropharyngeal tongue cancer and squamous cell carcinoma. Squamous cell carcinoma is the most common type of tongue cancer. Several factors can increase the risk of developing tongue cancer, including: tobacco use, consuming alcohol, being exposed to HPV, being male, increasing age, poor oral hygiene, and having a weak immune system.


DIAGNOSING: Sometimes tongue cancer symptoms won’t present themselves at first. But symptoms of tongue cancer include, but are not limited to: red or white patch on the tongue that won’t go away, persistent tongue pain, difficulty chewing or swallowing, a sore or lump on the tongue that doesn’t heal, numbness or tingling in the tongue, difficulty moving the tongue, lump in the neck, unexplained bleeding from the tongue (that’s not caused by biting your tongue or another injury), or pain in the ear, which is rare. Tongue cancer is usually caught by dentist or doctor. Diagnosis of tongue cancer typically involves a physical examination of the mouth and throat, along with imaging tests such as CT scans or MRI scans. A biopsy, where a small sample of tissue is taken from the tongue and examined under a microscope, is often necessary to confirm the diagnosis.


NEW TECHNOLOGY: A new clinical trial is on the market to treat tongue cancer. UNC Health and UNC School of Medicine are leading the trial. “The goal of the clinical trial, led by Jared Weiss, MD, an oncologist at the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, was to shrink the tumor down as much as possible prior to surgery, in the hopes that it would make the surgery more effective and less severe. More importantly, it could reduce one’s chances of needing radiation after the surgery, which could lead to debilitating side effects down the line, such as necrosis of the jaw, dental issues, dry mouth, speech and swallowing problems, and even aspiration – when food enters the airway where it can get lodged.”



Kendall Daniels

If this story or any other Ivanhoe story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at

Doctor Q and A

Read the entire Doctor Q&A for Jared Weiss, MD, Oncologist - Wendell Yarborough, MD, MMHC Head & Neck Surgeon

Read the entire Q&A