Talking Without A Tongue! Cynthia’s Story


SAN DIEGO, Calif. (Ivanhoe Newswire)— This year, more than 53,000  adults in the U.S. will be diagnosed with an oral cancer. Removing these types of cancers can affect how patients breathe, swallow, and talk. But, with a lot of practice, anything is possible. Talking without a tongue is possible.

For Cynthia Zamora, simply being able to talk is nothing short of miraculous. Three years ago, doctors found a tumor that covered more than half her tongue.

“And it’s like someone punched me in the stomach with it,” Zamora illustrated.

Surgeons had to remove most of Cynthia’s tongue– and then use tissue from her thigh to rebuild a new one.

Zamora added, “I probably have an eighth of a tongue and that’s a very small amount.”

The surgery left Cynthia unable to walk, eat, or talk. She couldn’t utter a word for three whole months. On top of that, she also had chemo and radiation. And then, the long road to recovery.

“You have to want to be able to communicate, and I wanted that more than anything,” Zamora asserted.

Liza Blumenfeld, MA CCC-SLP, BCS Speech Language Pathologist and Co-Director of Moores Cancer Center at UC San Diego Health Head and Neck Center explained, “Grab your tongue with your teeth and try to talk without a tongue. It’s one of those parts of your body that’s extraordinarily complex, and yet we completely take it for granted.”

(Read Full Interview)

 Blumenfeld helped Cynthia learn to talk, eat, drink and swallow. She persistently practices slowing her speech, exaggerating sounds, and compensating with her lips and vocal cords. Her results have impressed everyone.

“It’s incredibly gratifying to see how well she’s done, and she’s done a lot of hard work,” elaborated Joseph Califano III, MD, Physician in Chief of Moores Cancer Center and director of the Head and Neck Cancer Center.

(Read Full Interview)

And she plans to keep fighting.

Zamora exclaimed, “Don’t give up. Keep going. Be strong. Be stubborn. You can do it. You can!”

Doctors were able to spare the base of Cynthia’s original tongue, so she does have some, limited movement. Risk factors for tongue cancer include smoking, drinking, and having the HPV infection at a young age.

Contributors to this news report include: Cyndy McGrath, Executive Producer; Julie Marks, Field Producer; Roque Correa, Editor.

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REPORT:   MB #4763

BACKGROUND: Mouth cancer refers to cancer that develops in any part of the mouth or oral cavity. It can occur on the lips, gums, tongue, inner lining of the cheeks, roof of the mouth and floor of the mouth. Cancer that occurs on the inside of the mouth is sometimes called oral cancer or oral cavity cancer. Signs and symptoms of mouth cancer may include a lip or mouth sore that doesn’t heal, a white or reddish patch on the inside of your mouth, loose teeth, a growth or lump inside your mouth, mouth pain, ear pain and difficult or painful swallowing. They most commonly begin in the flat, thin cells (squamous cells) that line your lips and the inside of your mouth. Most oral cancers are squamous cell carcinomas. About 53,260 people will get oral cavity or oropharyngeal cancer and an estimated 10,750 people will die of these cancers. They are more than twice as common in men as in women and are about equally common in blacks and in whites.


TONGUE CANCER: Tongue cancer begins in the cells of the tongue. It most often begins in the thin, flat squamous cells that line the surface of the tongue. The type of cells involved in your tongue cancer helps determine your prognosis and treatment. The cancer can occur in the mouth, where it may be more likely to be seen and felt and, in the throat, at the base of the tongue, where tongue cancer may develop with few signs and symptoms. Treatment for tongue cancer typically involves surgery to remove the cancer. Chemotherapy, radiation therapy and targeted drug therapy also may be recommended. It is estimated that in 2020 there will be 17,660 new cases of tongue cancer in the U.S. and there will be 2,830 deaths.


NEW TECHNOLOGY: Specialists at UC San Diego Medicine have created a new tongue for cancer patients using a chunk of their leg. Plastic Surgeon Dr. Ahmed Suliman, using a method known as anterolateral thigh perforator flap removes a 6 by 8 patch of skin and fat from a patient’s thigh. Then he shapes it into a new organ and then uses a vein and artery from the neck to link this tissue to the remains of the original tongue’s base. The patient must go through extensive physical and speech therapy, but they are then able to have limited use of their tongue.







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 Joseph Califano, MD, Physician in Chief and Director of the Head and Neck Cancer Center - Liza Blumenfeld, MA CCC-SLP, BCS, Speech Language Pathologist and Co-Director

Read the entire Q&A