The tongue is about 3.1 to 3.3 inches in size. It is made up of two parts:

The oral tongue- The front part of the tongue.
The base of the tongue- Considered part of the throat (oropharynx), not the mouth.
The tongue allows us to taste, swallow, breathe and speak.

What is a glossectomy?

A glossectomy is the surgery done to remove part of or all of the tongue. It can be used to treat cancers of the tongue, some oral cavity (inside the mouth) and throat cancers.

What are the types of glossectomy?

The types of glossectomy are:
Partial glossectomy: A part of the tongue is removed.
Hemi glossectomy: One complete side of the tongue is removed, leaving the other side intact.
Total glossectomy: The entire tongue is removed. This results in an inability to swallow without getting food/liquids into the lungs (aspiration). In order to prevent aspiration, a laryngectomy (removal of the voice box) may also be done, this however may lead to a loss of your voice. Reconstructive surgery will be required in this case.
A temporary or permanent tracheostomy may be needed, depending on the surgery you have had. Your care team will be able to talk to you about if you need one and for how long. Your provider will talk to you about the specifics of your surgery.

What are the risks of having a glossectomy?

As with any surgery, there are risks and possible side effects. These can be:

  • Bleeding and blood clot formation that will go away on its own or may need to be treated with additional surgery.
  • Infection.
  • Dysphagia – Having a hard time swallowing (dysphagia).
  • Salivary fistula (A hole causing saliva to leak from the mouth into the neck).Wound dehiscence
  • Airway blockages (A blockage of the airway making it hard to breathe).
  • Aspiration (Food, fluid or saliva is not swallowed properly and enters the lungs instead of the stomach).
  • Pneumonia (An infection in the lungs).
  • Weight loss.
  • Having a hard time speaking (dysarthria)/loss of speech.

What is recovery like?

Recovery from a glossectomy depends on the type of surgery you have had. Often, a 7-10 day hospital stay is needed. A temporary or permanent feeding tube may be needed for nutrition, during and after the healing process. In many cases of cancer, due to the extensive resection, a flap may be placed for filling the defect.

You will be taught how to care for your incisions and will be given any other instructions before leaving the hospital. You provider will talk to you about changing your diet, how to care for your feeding tube and/or tracheostomy, as well as the need for rehabilitative and/or speech therapy.

Our team will discuss with you the medications you will be taking, such as those for pain, blood clot, infection, and constipation prevention, and/or other conditions.
We will talk to you about changes in your activity level, which will depend on the surgery you had.

When should you contact us?

It is often suggested you call us at SARVASVA HEALTH if:
Any signs of infection, such as fever, chills, swelling, bleeding or mouth discharge.
A hard time swallowing.
An increase in pain that is not relieved with prescribed medications.
Pain/swelling of the feet, calves or legs.
Shortness of breath, coughing, chest pain and/or severe nausea/vomiting.
Any new or worsening symptoms.

Additional Procedures and therapies

  • Neck dissection – based on the severity of the cancer glossectomy might be paired with neck dissection to prevent further spread of the tumour. (link to neck dissection)
  • Radiation therapy: given in cases of cancer as an additional modality to prevent recurrence.
  • Speech therapy – In cases of a laryngectomy you may have to undergo speech counselling in order to improve your speech.
  • Physiotherapy – To help you regain the ability to swallow and chew food properly.
  • Rehabilitation – denture therapy (link to prosthetics)
    tongue prosthesis (link to tongue prosthetics)