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What Are the Signs of Tongue Cancer?

Updated February 21, 2019

The word "cancer" has scary connotations, because cancer can be difficult to diagnose and treat. Most people are familiar with certain types of cancer, such as breast cancer, prostate cancer, lung cancer and other types that afflict certain organs. However, cancer can also strike on the tongue, especially in people with certain risk factors. It's important to be aware of this type of cancer and the signs that you might have it so you can get an early diagnosis and treatment.

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Cancer can affect virtually any part of the body, including the tongue. Squamous cell carcinoma is the most common type of tongue cancer. Although there are other varieties, they are rare. Tongue cancer typically shows up as a tumo, and exhibits other signs and symptoms that can help identify it.

Signs and Symptoms

According to Cancer Treatment Centers of America, several typical symptoms could be a sign of tongue cancer. These include a red or white patch that develops on the tongue or in a surrounding area, such as the gums or mouth. Additional symptoms may include problems and pain when chewing or swallowing, or a persistent sore throat. Tongue cancer can also cause voice changes, ear pain, numbness in the mouth and bleeding.

Risk Factors

Certain risk factors can make a person more likely to develop tongue cancer. These include using tobacco and drinking alcohol. Persistent viral infections may also play a role. Age is another risk factor, as the Oral Cancer Foundation says that tongue cancer is most commonly diagnosed in people over 40. If you notice signs that could indicate tongue cancer, and have one or more of these risk factors, make an appointment with your doctor as soon as possible.


If you are experiencing signs and symptoms that could be connected to throat cancer, you should visit a doctor for a diagnosis. This is especially true if you also have risks for tongue cancer in your background. Once you describe your symptoms to the doctor, the Mayo Clinic says he will most likely examine you, and take a tissue sample to be sent out and checked for cancer cells. He may order additional tests, such as X-rays, a computed axial tomography (CAT) scan, a magnetic resonance image (MRI) or a positron-emission tomography (PET) scan


According to the Mayo Clinic, treatment for tongue cancer depends on the cancer's stage. When tongue cancer is diagnosed early, treatment may be less invasive, and the chance for a cure will be better, This is why it's important to recognise the signs of tongue cancer and consult a doctor early if they show up. Early-stage tongue cancer is usually treated with surgery or radiation. If it has progressed, a combination of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation may be required.

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About the Author

Based in Kissimmee, Fla., Barb Nefer is a freelance writer with over 20 years of experience. She is a mental health counselor, finance coach and travel agency owner. Her work has appeared in such magazines as "The Writer" and "Grit" and she authored the book, "So You Want to Be a Counselor."

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