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What are Tongue Cancer Symptoms?

Deanna Baranyi
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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As the name implies, tongue cancer is a cancer of the tongue. Depending on where the cancer is located on the tongue, it can fall into one of two categories: oral cavity cancer or oropharyngeal cancer. If the cancer is in the two-thirds of the tongue that is towards the front, it is considered oral cavity cancer. Alternatively, if it is in back third of the tongue, it is called oropharyngeal cancer. One in 348 people will be affected by tongue cancer at some point; however, the key to combating it is early detection and awareness of tongue cancer symptoms.

Oral cavity cancer is not only cancer of the tongue, but also the lips, cheeks, hard palate, floor of mouth, minor salivary glands, and gums. It can spread from one part to another, so it is important to be aware of the symptoms of oral cavity cancer in all of its forms, including tongue cancer symptoms. Some symptoms are quite evident while others are a little less obvious.

One of the main tongue cancer symptoms is a patch or several patches of red or white on the tongue. The patches can also be found on the lining of the mouth or the gums. Some people who experience tongue cancer symptoms have problems swallowing or chewing their food, while others have a persistent sore throat. Other signs of tongue cancer include abnormal bleeding in the mouth, sores in the mouth or tongue, lumps on the tongue or in the mouth, a change in the sound of the voice, earaches, and alterations in the way that dentures fit inside the mouth.

The other kind of tongue cancer is oropharyngeal cancer. It is separate for oral cavity cancer and includes the back one-third of the tongue, the tonsils, the soft palate, the walls of the pharynx, and the tonsilar arches. Many times oropharyngeal cancer is discovered by the patient’s dentist, since there may not be any symptoms at the beginning.

There are several symptoms for oropharyngeal cancer, many which are directly associated with the back of the tongue. For example, there may be difficulty swallowing food or liquids, an unexplainable loss of weight, or a lump in the back of the throat. There may also be a pain in the ear area, or a lump on the neck from swollen lymph nodes. One of the classic symptoms is a persistent sore throat. This can be the result of an ulcer in the mouth or of a tumor that is pushing against nerves.

Early detection and treatment are key factors to surviving any form of cancer. People who are aware of their bodies and who are knowledgeable of tongue cancer symptoms may be able to seek medical treatment sooner than those people who are unaware. Any concerns should be addressed by a physician.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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Deanna Baranyi
By Deanna Baranyi , Former Writer
Deanna Baranyi, a freelance writer and editor with a passion for the written word, brings a diverse skill set to her work. With degrees in relevant fields and a keen ability to understand and connect with target audiences, she crafts compelling copy, articles, and content that inform and engage readers.

Discussion Comments

By anon930884 — On Feb 06, 2014

I have blisters on the back of my tongue. They only appeared a day or so ago and they don't hurt, but I'm really scared. I don't know what it is.

By anon348025 — On Sep 12, 2013

I have a small lump underneath my tongue, but no other symptoms. What should I do? Should I wait before I see a doctor?

By anon317651 — On Feb 03, 2013

I have all the symptoms except the swollen throat. It usually itches on both front sides of my tongue and then would bite it. I've had it since I was a boy.

By anon300000 — On Oct 27, 2012

@anon271586: "Everyone goes through phases of bloody pus tongue. It's nothing really to be concerned about."

Are you kidding me? Stop smoking right now and get to a doctor. Your mouth is screwed up.

By anon290954 — On Sep 12, 2012

About two months ago, I noticed my tongue was swollen on the sides and right in the middle. I went to the doctor and he said it was anxiety, but I started to notice that I had huge bumps on the very back of my tongue leading down my throat.

I switched doctors and she told me my taste buds were very swollen and that I had an allergic reaction to something so she gave me a mouth wash called nystatin and zyrtec. I finished taking that. It's been probably two weeks since I finished and the bumps and swollen tongue are still there.

I've also noticed the very back of my throat. my "punching bag" the thing that hangs. Sorry I don't know what it's called, seems like it's beginning to drop a little towards my tongue, but I can breath and swallow fine.

Sometimes I'll get this nasty taste in my throat, kind of like an abscessed tooth; it's kind of smelly and gross. What do you think it could be?

By anon281724 — On Jul 25, 2012

I get a bubble like blister which actually appears once for three days. It bleeds and then disappears. In its alternative form, it forms a bubble once in while and once filled with blood and has been this way for two months. Is this a symptom?

By anon276627 — On Jun 25, 2012

I have a red bubble on the bottom gum. It comes up big then the next day is smaller with a small white bubble. It started three weeks ago, then disappeared, then yesterday came back. It doesn't hurt. It's just uncomfortable. I also have an ulcer on the top gum. Is there anything to worry about?

By anon271586 — On May 27, 2012

I am a 45 year old female who has been smoking for 37 years now. A month ago, my tongue started to hurt and it changed from a healthy smooth surface to a rough feeling with red patches that started to bleed every time I cleaned my tongue.

When I use a tongue scraper, a pus looking film with blood comes off my tongue. Today I am having trouble swallowing, and the for the past two days, I have not been able to eat. Everything burns my tongue, even my own saliva. My throat and tongue hurt so bad and I don't know what to do. Should I be concerned?

By anon147738 — On Jan 30, 2011

A couple weeks ago a little red bump showed up in the middle of my tongue. It doesn't hurt. Yesterday is started bleeding for no good reason and didn't stop for a half an hour. It has bled twice since then but not for as long. I thought maybe it was a pimple. Should I be worried?

By amypollick — On Nov 19, 2010

@anon128209: Yes, a doctor can help. You need to see one. Please.

By anon128209 — On Nov 18, 2010

i dip tobacco and have a small streak of white taste buds and underneath the tongue is red and slightly swollen and it hurts kind of bad when i move my tongue. can anyone help.

By anon88930 — On Jun 07, 2010

i have little sore throat but i smoke and have just gotten over a cold the last few days. i have about ten little red dot things in the back third of my tongue. What should i do?

By anon88610 — On Jun 06, 2010

my tongue color changed to black color. so is it tongue cancer?

By anon72425 — On Mar 23, 2010

i had six months of red blisters on the extreme backside of the tongue. No pain. No other symptoms as mentioned. Can it be tongue cancer?

By desertdunes — On Feb 05, 2010

1 in 348 people?!! I sometimes get a bubble like blister at the very tip of my tongue. It literally looks like a clear bubble, and it's painful. It will hang around for a few days then just disappear overnight...you think it's a symptom?

Deanna Baranyi

Deanna Baranyi

Former Writer

Deanna Baranyi, a freelance writer and editor with a passion for the written word, brings a diverse skill set to her...
Learn more
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