What are Tongue Cancer Symptoms?

Dee Saale
Dee Saale

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.

A persistent sore throat is one symptom of tongue cancer.
A persistent sore throat is one symptom of tongue cancer.

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.

Patches of red or white on the tongue may be a sign of tongue cancer.
Patches of red or white on the tongue may be a sign of tongue cancer.

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.

A lump in the neck could be a symptom of tongue cancer.
A lump in the neck could be a symptom of tongue cancer.

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.

One in 348 people will be affected by tongue cancer at some point.
One in 348 people will be affected by tongue cancer at some point.

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.

An alteration in the way dentures fit can be a sign of tongue cancer.
An alteration in the way dentures fit can be a sign of tongue cancer.
Dee Saale
Dee Saale

Dee is a freelance writer based in Colorado. She has a B.A. in English Literature, as well as a law degree. Dee is especially interested in topics relating to medicine, legal issues, and home improvement, which are her specialty when contributing to wiseGEEK.

You might also Like

Readers Also Love

Discussion Comments


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.


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


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.


@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.


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?


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?


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?


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?


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?


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


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.


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?


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


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?


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?

Post your comments
Forgot password?