Tongue Cancer: Symptoms, Causes, Treatment

Tongue cancer is the type of cancer that develops on the tongue. Here are its  symptoms, causes, diagnosis and treatment.

Navya Kharbanda
Written by: Navya KharbandaUpdated at: Jul 02, 2021 09:32 IST
Tongue Cancer: Symptoms, Causes, Treatment

A cancer that develops on the cells of the tongue is called tongue cancer. It can cause painful lesions and wounds that won't heal. In later stages, tumors also start to grow. This type of cancer is radically similar to cancers in neck and head. Tongue cancer can be classified in two parts on the basis of their positioning. Cancer in the outer visible part of tongue comes under oral cancer. If cancer occurs in the inner 1/3 part of your tongue, it is classified as oropharyngeal cancer. Oral tongue cancer is detected more easily as compared to oropharyngeal cancer, because it occurs on the visible parts. Whereas, oropharyngeal cancers can prove to be much more fatal.

Tongue cancer is rare in young ages and is a part of oral cancer. Most cases reported till date are of people above the age of 45. Most cases of such cancers are associated with lifestyle problems and bad habits of intoxication of the body. Certain other diseases like HPV virus also increase the risk of tongue cancer. Onlymyhealth editorial team spoke to Dr. Pawan Gupta, Director Cancer Care / Oncology, Head & Neck Oncology, Surgical Oncology, Max Hospital, Vaishali, about the symptoms, causes, diagnosis and treatment for tongue cancer. 

Tongue cancer symptoms

The initial noticeable symptoms of tongue cancer are a bump or sore ulcer on the side of your tongue that does not disappear with time and it is mostly pink or red in color. In some cases, the lump can bleed, if you try to pop, touch or bite it. As per Dr. Pawan, here are the symptoms of tongue cancer:

1. Tongue ulcer

tongue ulcer

Appearance of cancer sores and ulcers is very common. These ulcers reflect other issues in our body, such as lack of hygiene or indigestion. If these cancer sores do not heal over a long period of time, you must pay attention to it. You might also experience long term issues with the activities that involve the movement of your tongue.

2. Numb mouth

Another symptom of oral cancer could be a feeling of numbness in mouth. Your tongue might feel strange as if something is stuffed in your throat. Such symptoms should not be avoided at all. People also face difficulties in moving their jaw. One must pay attention and consult a doctor immediately.

Also read: Oral, Head And Neck Cancer Awareness Week 2020: Early Signs And Symptoms Of Oral Cavity Cancer

3. Patches on the tongue

One of the major symptoms of tongue cancer is patches, also known as leukoplakia. These patches can be red as well as grey or white. These patches are a result of irritation in mucous membranes. These patches are usually thicker and rough than their surrounding. These patches are painless in most cases. But these areas become very sensitive to temperature, spicy food etc.

4. Bleeding from tongue

One of the initial symptoms can be unhealed wounds on your tongue, which might start bleeding. Such wounds would become a matter of concern if they don't heal even after 3-4 weeks of medication. In cases where cancer starts from the oropharyngeal region, you might experience unexplained bleeding which might or might not be accompanied by pain.

5. Pain while swallowing

Pain while swallowing is also a major symptom of tongue cancer in oropharyngeal region. Sometimes the tumors can become big enough to interfere with the swallowing of food. In later cases, these tumors might need to be removed from your throat.

Tongue cancer causes


The exact cause for tongue cancer is not clear, but there can be a number of factors behind it. There are certain factors such as smoking and drinking that can increase a person's risk of developing this disease. Listed below are the main causes of tongue cancer:

1. Smoking

Use of tobacco is associated with increased risks of upto 12 types of cancers in our body. Non-smokers can also suffer from tongue cancer but smoking increases the chances of oral cancer upto 5 times. Living in polluted environment also has similar effects on your system. The time and intensity of smoking also affects the risks of tongue cancer. Even passive smoking can increase your chance of getting tongue cancer.

2. Drinking

Drinking alone can also increase the chances of cancer in the body. Tongue cancer is very similar to head and neck cancers. As alcohol increases risks of cancer in head and neck, certain studies also show that it increases the chances of tongue cancer. Chewing betel also contributes to increased risks.

Also read: Lower Your Risk of Oral Cancer With These Care Tips

3. Family history

Genetic constitution of our body is extensively essential. Ig we have a blood relative who is suffering from some kind of cancer, there are chances that we are also more prone to develop the disease. Certain studies show that American-African set of DNAs prove to be more prone to this kind of cancer as compared to Caucasians.

Tongue cancer diagnosis and treatment

tonge cancer

The expert will check your mouth and ask different queries about the symptoms you are having. An X-ray or tissue biopsy can also help in making a better diagnosis for tongue cancer. There are many treatment options that can cure tongue cancer. Early detection and diagnosis of the tumor helps in treating this type of cancer in a better way. As per Dr. Pawan, here are some ways to treat tongue cancer:

1. Surgery

In later stages of cancer when the cancer spreads to the lymph nodes, surgery is the only way out. The affected lymph nodes are removed from your mouth. Such surgeries leave a deep scar both physically and mentally. There is a high risk that a person might affect his/her ability to speak after such surgeries.

Also read: World Cancer Day 2021: Know The Stages, Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment And Prevention Of Oral Cancer

2. Chemotherapy

Cancer cells are killed using chemotherapy as a treatment. These are very strong chemicals and have adverse effects on your body. Most patients in the first or second stage of cancer, recover after chemotherapy.

3. Speech therapy

Patient's internal formation might get disturbed after the operation. These losses can be more severe if soft tissues are harmed. A speech language pathologist might help such patients to learn to communicate and express themselves after surgeries.

So, these were the stages, symptoms, causes, diagnosis and treatment of tongue cancer by Dr. Pawan Gupta. By making a few lifestyle changes, one can try and reduce the risk of developing  this type of cancer. If you experience any of the above listed symptoms, it is advised to talk to your doctor for further diagnosis and treatment.

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