Tongue Cancer

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Tongue cancer develops from the squamous cells of the tongue. This leads to a local tumor growth with spreading later.

Tongue cancer is often grouped with other mouth cancers, such as cancer of the lips, hard palate, cheek lining, the portion of the mouth underneath the front of the tongue, or gums. These cancers are collectively known as oral cavity cancer.


The exact cause of tongue cancer is unknown. However, the following lifestyle factors may be related:

  • Smoking cigarettes, cigars, or a pipe
  • Use of chewing tobacco, snuff, or other tobacco products
  • Heavy alcohol consumption
    tongue cancer illustration
    Cancer of the Tongue Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Tongue Cancer Risk

Factors that can increase your chance of developing tongue cancer include:

  • Sex: male
  • Poor oral and dental hygiene
  • Age: 40 and over
  • Irritation of the mucous membranes in the mouth due to smoking and drinking
  • History of mouth ulcers
  • Family history


Possible symptoms include:

  • Lesion, lump, or ulcer on the tongue
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Mouth sores and mouth pain
  • Numbness or difficulty moving the tongue
  • Change in speech due to inability to move the tongue over the teeth when speaking
  • Pain when chewing and speaking
  • Bleeding from the tongue


Tongue cancer may be detected by your dentist during a routine dental cleaning, or by your doctor during a routine physical exam. A physical exam will be done. This may include examining your tongue for lumps or masses. A fiberoptic scope may be used.

  • Your tongue tissue may need to be tested. This can be done with biopsy.
  • Images may need to be taken. This can be done with:
    • Computed tomography (CT) scan
    • X-ray


Treatment depends on the stage of the cancer and the size and location of the tumor:

  • Surgery
  • Radiation Therapy (Radiotherapy)
  • Chemotherapy
  • Rehabilitation and Follow-Up
    • Therapy to improve tongue movement, chewing, and swallowing
    • Speech therapy, if use of the tongue is affected
    • Close monitoring of your mouth, throat, esophagus, and lungs to see if the cancer has come back or spread


To help reduce your chance of getting tongue cancer, take the following steps:

  • Don't smoke or use tobacco products. If you do smoke or use tobacco products, get help to quit.
  • Avoid heavy alcohol consumption.
  • See your doctor regularly for check-ups and cancer screening exams.


Content was created using EBSCO’s Health Library. Edits to original content made by Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice.