When the word “cancer” is mentioned, many people will immediately think about the most well-known types of cancer such as lung, colon, or skin cancer. It’s a fact that a lot of people rarely think about or even know some types of cancer especially tongue cancer. The tongue is an important part of your oral cavity as it helps in chewing, swallowing, and speaking. So it’s important that you know more about tongue cancer, its symptoms, and treatment as it can happen to anyone. In this article, we shall look at tongue cancer, its symptoms, causes and treatment methods available so that you can know when you have it and what to do.

What is Tongue Cancer?

Your tongue is divided into two major parts – the oral tongue and the tongue base. The oral tongue is formed by the front two thirds whereas the tongue base is the remaining part which is the base. According to CTCA or Cancer Treatment Centers of America, tongue cancer usually forms on the oral tongue. This type of cancer originates from squamous cells, which are thin and flat cells found on the tongue surface. It’s also known as squamous cell cancer of the oral tongue or simply oral tongue cancer. If the malignancy occurs on the tongue base, it’s referred to as squamous cell cancer of the tongue base.

Signs and Symptoms

The first sign of oral tongue cancer is a pinkish-red sore at the side of your tongue that doesn’t heal over time. Often, this sore tends to bleed easily if touched or bitten and this can happen while chewing food.

During its early stages, tongue base cancer tends to be asymptomatic. This means that the patient cannot feel or see the lump until it begins to grow. But when symptoms begin to appear, they include pain in the tongue and the surrounding tissue, difficulty swallowing food that results in feelings of fullness or bloat. The patient may also experience changes in voice tones.

By the time a patient with tongue base cancer sees a doctor, he or she will have advanced symptoms or even the cancer might have already spread to the lymph nodes.


cigarette smoking

The cause of tongue cancer is not clearly known although thickened white patches on the mucous membranes of your oral cavity and poor oral hygiene are believed to be the possible causes.

Tongue cancer is also linked with liver cirrhosis, syphilis, alcoholism, and excessive smoking. Generic predisposition to cancer may also be a possible cause.


If you experience the above symptoms, you need to consult your dentist as soon as possible to perform some tests on you. Your dentist will perform the basic oral examination of your tongue, cheeks, throat, mouth floor and roof, and neck lymph nodes. If he will notice any lump, he may perform tissue biopsy. Other diagnostic procedures that may be performed include x-rays, CT-scans, and MRI of your jaws, throat, and chest to check any tumors.

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Treatment methods

Treatment of tongue cancer should commence as early as possible. The treatment may begin with the surgical removal of the lumps followed by radiation therapy. But doctors will also put you under chemotherapy.