What Are the Different Tongue Cancer Signs?

Chewing tobacco, which can cause tongue cancer.
A tongue.
Chronic bad breath may be a sign of tongue cancer.
The lymph nodes in the neck may become inflamed in people with tongue cancer.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 29 November 2014
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Tongue cancer signs can include pain, swelling, and discoloration of the tongue. They are sometimes difficult to identify when they involve the base of the tongue — the portion in the back of the mouth — because people do not often inspect this part of the mouth closely. Dentists are most commonly responsible for identifying tongue cancer signs, as they are familiar with the mouths of their patients and they use special tools to look deep into the mouth. Oral cancers can grow quickly and are often invasive, and the prognosis can be bad for the patient.

People with tongue cancer may notice discolored patches on the tongue, including darker or lighter areas, that do not go away. The tongue can also feel tender and sore; people may feel like something is lodged in the tongue and cannot be removed. Oral bleeding is common and the area around the cancer may develop numbness or tingling. In addition, persistent bad breath can be a warning sign of tongue cancer.


Other tongue cancer signs involve surrounding areas of the body. The lymph nodes in the neck may become swollen. and discolorations and puffiness can start appearing along the gums as well. Patients may have trouble swallowing and can develop slurred speech as the swollen tongue makes it harder to enunciate. The teeth and jaw can be displaced, leading to a change in the way the patient bites down, and weight loss may occur as a result of low-level loss of appetite.

Tongue cancer signs are often spotted early on the front of the tongue because people notice tender areas or discolorations that do not go away. In these cases, they may seek treatment from a doctor after home remedies like canker sore treatments do not appear to work. A doctor can take a scraping of the lesion for biopsy to see what is happening and may make treatment recommendations like surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation. Surgery can be invasive, as it may be necessary to remove parts of the jaw if the cancer is locally aggressive, but the alternative would be allowing the cancer to keep growing.

People who notice tongue cancer signs should get them evaluated. If the problem is benign or is another issue, like a yeast infection, it may be very treatable and a doctor will not mind consulting with the patient on the matter. If it is in fact tongue cancer, rapid treatment can make a significant difference in the prognosis. Removing the cancerous growth before it has time to spread to other areas of the body may improve the prognosis for the patient significantly.


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