Squamous Cell Carcinoma of the Tongue in Young Patients: A Case Series and Literature Review

J Oral Maxillofac Surg. 2021 Jun;79(6):1270-1286. doi: 10.1016/j.joms.2020.12.018. Epub 2020 Dec 24.


Purpose: The purpose of this study was to describe 3 cases of tongue cancer in patients less than 21 years of age. Secondarily, a literature review was performed to examine disease presentation, risk factors, prognosis, and treatment strategies for young persons with tongue cancer.

Methods: The authors presented 3 cases of childhood tongue cancer between 2009 and 2020 at the University of Michigan Department of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery (Ann Arbor, MI). An electronic literature review was conducted via PubMed, Embase, Web of Science, and MLibrary.

Results: Including the present case series, 64 studies reporting 108 cases were identified. Age at presentation ranged from newborn to 20 years, with a mean age of 14.5 years. The majority of patients were female (52.2%); 68.1% of patients presented with T1 or T2 disease. Nodal metastases were seen in 56.1% of patients. The most commonly identified predisposing factors included Fanconi anemia (13.9%), bone marrow transplant (9.3%), tobacco use (6.5%), and xeroderma pigmentosum (4.6%). Most patients received surgery alone (37.5%), followed by surgery with adjuvant radiation (33.8%); 60.6% underwent neck dissection. Overall survival was 60.3% at 1 year and 43.6% at 5 years.

Conclusions: Oral tongue cancer in the young is a rare disease with poorly understood etiology. There is a need for oncologists and maxillofacial surgeons to collaborate in the study of genetic, social, environmental, and medical risk factors contributing to the disease. All patients should undergo high-throughput genetic sequencing to expand our understanding of the disease process and allow for targeted treatment strategies.

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell* / pathology
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell* / surgery
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Mouth Neoplasms* / surgery
  • Neck Dissection
  • Neoplasm Staging
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Tongue / pathology
  • Tongue Neoplasms* / pathology
  • Tongue Neoplasms* / surgery
  • Young Adult