South African Journal of Surgery
On-line version ISSN 2078-5151
Print version ISSN 0038-2361
Total glossectomy (with or without total laryngectomy) followed by postoperative radiotherapy remains the principal treatment method for advanced base of tongue carcinoma. The procedure remains controversial owing to poor cure rates and the inevitable functional deficits associated with it. However, even though total glossectomy is a major surgical procedure that impacts on speech, deglutition and quality of life, it may offer patients the best chance of cure in many centres, especially in the developing world. METHODS: We did a retrospective chart review of all patients at Groote Schuur Hospital, Cape Town, who had undergone total glossectomy, with or without total laryngectomy, for stage IV squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) of the tongue between 1998 and 2004. RESULTS: Eight patients had a total glossectomy performed during the study period. At 2, 3 and 5 years 63%, 38% and 25% of patients respectively were alive without disease. No patient required permanent nasogastric or gastrostomy feeding, and all returned to a full oral diet. Three of 5 patients who had laryngeal preservation and could be assessed for speech had intelligible speech. All but 1 patient (88%) reported pain relief following surgical excision. Perineural invasion was present in 75%, and 38% had positive resection margins. Five patients had recurrence, 2 cervical, 1 local, and 2 local and cervical. CONCLUSION: Advanced SCC of the tongue is a devastating disease causing severe pain and disorders of speech and swallowing. Total glossectomy (with or without total laryngectomy) and postoperative radiotherapy is a reasonable treatment option, particularly in the developing world setting. It has cure rates superior to primary radiotherapy, and provides motivated patients with excellent pain relief and a reasonable quality of life.