Tongue Cancer

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.

Tongue Cancer Treatment

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

  • Surgery
  • Radiation 
  • Chemotherapy
  • Rehabilitation and follow-up, like
    • 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


tongue cancer illustration
Cancer of the Tongue Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Signs of Possible Cancer on Your Tongue

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


Either your dentist or your doctor may find signs of cancer. To confirm the diagnosis, we may need to: 

  • Examine your tongue with a fiberoptic scope
  • Test your tongue with a biopsy 
  • Take imaging scans with:
    • Computed tomography (CT) scan
    • X-ray


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.