Tongue cancer (squamous cell carcinoma of the tongue) is a type of oral cancer that appears in the front or back of the tongue. Oral cancers include cancer of the tongue, tonsils, mouth and lips. There are different subtypes of tongue cancer depending on what specific cells are involved. Most tongue cancer tumors form in the flat squamous cells on the surface area of the tongue. Tongue cancer cases are categorized based on the location of the tumor:
Oral Tongue Cancer: when the tumor appears in the anterior (front) portion of the tongue or mouth area, it is referred to as oral tongue cancer. Oral tongue cancer accounts for over 65% of all tongue cancer cases. This type of tongue cancer is usually detected much earlier and the tumors tend to be smaller and easier to treat.
Hypopharyngeal Tongue Cancer: this type of tongue cancer occurs in the very back area of the tongue near the throat and its accounts for only 1/3 of cases. Hypopharyngeal tongue cancer is usually not diagnosed until later stages and the tumors are often more aggressive.
The most notable symptom of tongue cancer is often the appearance of a sore on the tongue at the location of the tumor. In cases of hypopharyngeal tongue cancer, where the tumor appears in the back of the tongue, the sore may not be visible. Other potential signs of tongue cancer include:
- Prolonged discomfort in tongue or jaw
- A lump or persistent swelling in the mouth
- White or red patches on the tongue or other places within the mouth
- Persistent sore throat or sensation of having something caught in throat
- Trouble swallowing or moving jaw
Treatment of tongue cancer typically involves some combination of surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. Surgical treatment for tongue cancer usually means a total glossectomy which is a removal removal of the entire tongue. A glossectomy is often followed by reconstructive surgery and targeted radiation. When the cancer is in early stages, a partial glossectomy might be a viable option.Survival Rates for Oral Cancer
The overall survival rates for tongue and other types of oral cancer are comparatively good. About 50,000 people are diagnosed with oral cancers each year (with twice as many men diagnosed compared to women). About 10,000 people will die from oral cancer each year. The overall 5-year survival rate for oral cancer is 65%. The 5-year survival rate for oral cancer that is treated in early stages (stage 1 or 2) is 84%.Misdiagnosis of Tongue Cancer
Tongue cancer is frequently misdiagnosed, particularly in its early stages. This is partly because the early symptoms of tongue cancer are frequently mistaken for other more common conditions including oral herpes and dental abscess. A definitive diagnosis of tongue cancer will usually start with identification of the actually tumor with some form of imaging test. A CT scan or an MRI can be used for this purpose.
Once a potential tumor is located with imaging tests, a biopsy will be done to conclusively diagnose it as cancer. The problem is that doctors often dismiss the initial symptoms of tongue cancer and don't perform more advanced diagnostic testing until later on. This can be a big problem with tongue cancer because early detection and treatment is absolutely critical. A delay in diagnosis of tongue cancer can mean that the patient will need to have their entire tongue surgically removed. The permanent effects of this can obviously be devastating.
Dentists are often in the position to act on the symptoms of oral cancer. It requires adequate clinical examinations and the ability to recognize the signs and symptoms of oral cancer. If there is a concern, there is sometimes wisdom in keeping a a watch of any signs or symptoms of suspected oral cancer.
What can happen is a dentistry patient cam complain to their dentist about chronic lesions that will not heal, soft tissue pain, including to the tongue, and consistent swelling or bumps. In this case, a differential diagnosis of cancer must be made until proven otherwise. Smart dentists refer out the patient for a biopsy.
- Example of a tongue cancer misdiagnosis lawsuit filed in Maryland in 2018
- Settlement value of malpractice claims in Maryland
- Cancer misdiagnosis claims in Maryland
- Sample settlements and verdicts involving oncologists
Below is a summary of several reported settlements and verdicts in medical malpractice cases based on misdiagnosis of tongue cancer. These cases are summarized for informational purposes only. You cannot use these cases alone to determine the value of your potential claim. But that, along with an understanding of Maryland's cap on damages in malpractice cases, helps you better understand the potential value of your claim.
JONES v. LOVRINIC (Pennsylvania - 2003) -- $4.1 million verdict: In this Philadelphia case the defendant ENT doctor was allegedly negligent in misdiagnosing the plaintiff's tongue cancer. The misdiagnosis resulted in a significant delay in treatment. By the time tongue cancer was diagnosed it had spread significantly and plaintiff died soon after. The jury in Philadelphia awarded damages of $4.1 million.
WILSON v WEAVER (Tennessee - 2004) -- $1.8 million verdict: Plaintiff was a 61 year old pharmacist and he went to the doctor complaining of persistent neck tenderness. An initial ultrasound showed a suspicious mass so a CT scan was performed. The radiologist interpreted the CT scan as normal and diagnosed the mass as an enlarged jugular vein. A year later the plaintiff's neck pain was worse and was starting to impact his voice. He was referred to an otolaryngologist (ENT) who diagnosed plaintiff with hypopharyngeal tongue cancer (cancer at back of tongue). By then the cancer was in advanced stages and had already spread to the plaintiff's chest and he died 16 months later. Subsequent wrongful death action was brought against radiologist and family doctor for failing to diagnose the cancer a year earlier which would have increased plaintiff's survival chances. Jury in Nashville awarded $1.8 million.
KERR v CONTRUCCI (Florida - 2007) - $6.4 million verdict: Plaintiff, a 51-year old social worker, was referred to defendant doctors regarding discomfort in his neck and throat. Defendants failed to diagnose tongue cancer and allegedly never came up with any conclusive diagnosis of plaintiff's condition. Plaintiff later sought a second opinion from another doctor and was immediately diagnosed with tongue cancer. By that point, however, the cancer had advanced and plaintiff had to have his entire tongue removed. The surgery left him unable to speak or eat without assistance of a feeding tube. A jury in Broward County awarded $6.4 million in damages.
FRANCISCO v UNITED HEALTH OF FLA. (Florida - 2001) - $2.7 million verdict: Plaintiff is this case was a 74-year old truck driver. He went to his doctor about a lesion on his tongue and he was referred to defendant doctor for a biopsy. The defendant did not biopsy the lesion initially to determine whether it was cancerous. It was not until 7 months later that the defendant doctor actually took a biopsy and diagnosed plaintiff with squamous cell cancer of the tongue. During the 7 month delay the cancer grew from a T1 tumor to a T2 tumor. Following radiation treatment the cancer recurred and eventually grew to T3 at which point 75% of plaintiff's tongue had to be surgically removed. The malpractice action alleged negligence in the delayed diagnosis of plaintiff's tongue cancer resulting in a reduced prognosis and treatment options. Plaintiff rejected a settlement offer of $250,000 and went to trial where a jury in Dade County awarded $2.7 million.
If you or someone you are familiar with has tongue or oral cancer that was misdiagnosed or diagnosed after a long delay, contact the malpractice attorneys at Miller & Zois for a free case evaluation. Call us at 1.800.553.8082 or submit a request for a free consultation.