Tongue Cancers

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What tongue cancer is

There are two parts to your tongue, the oral tongue and the base of the tongue. Cancer can develop in either part. The oral tongue is the part you see when you poke your tongue out at someone. This is the front two thirds of your tongue. Cancers that develop in this part of the tongue come under a group of cancers called mouth (oral) cancer.

The base of the tongue is the back third of the tongue. This part is very near your throat (pharynx). Cancers that develop in this part are called oropharyngeal cancers (pronounced oar-o-farin-gee-al).

Types of tongue cancer

The most common type of tongue cancer is squamous cell carcinoma (SCCA). Squamous cells are the flat, skin like cells that cover the lining of the mouth, nose, larynx, thyroid and throat. Squamous cell carcinoma is the name given to a cancer that starts in these cells.

Symptoms of tongue cancer

The symptoms of tongue cancer may include

  • A red or white patch on the tongue, that will not go away
  • A sore throat that does not go away
  • A sore spot on the tongue that does not go away
  • Pain when swallowing
  • Numbness in the mouth that will not go away
  • Unexplained bleeding from the tongue (that is not caused by biting your tongue or other injury)
  • Pain in the ear (rare)

Do bear in mind that these symptoms may be due to a less serious medical condition. But it is important to check symptoms with your GP just to make sure.

Risks and causes of tongue cancer

We don’t know the exact causes of most head and neck cancers, but several risk factors have been identified. Smoking tobacco (cigarettes, cigars and pipes) and drinking a lot of alcohol are the main risk factors for cancers of the head and neck in the western world. There is information about the risks and causes of mouth cancer in the mouth cancer section.


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