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Diagnosing & Treating Tongue Cancer


Tongue cancer is a type of head and neck cancer. When it affects the front two-thirds of the tongue — the part you can stick out — it’s considered an oral cavity cancer, the most common form. When it starts in the inner one-third of the tongue, it’s considered a form of throat cancer. Most tongue cancers start on the tongue’s surface cells. 

If you think you’re experiencing tongue cancer symptoms, it’s important to get diagnosed and treated quickly. If you’d like to speak with an expert about tongue cancer in the Bay Area, Find a Doctor at Dignity Health.

Symptoms of Tongue Cancer

Early on, you may not experience any tongue cancer symptoms at all — especially if it’s in the back of the tongue. Oral cancer affecting the front tongue is often visible but starts out painless. As the cancer grows and invades deeper tissues, you may experience other tongue cancer signs, including a sore or ulcer that doesn’t heal, and feeling like you have a persistent cold. 

Other signs and symptoms include: 

  • Chronic bad breath
  • Difficulty chewing, swallowing, or moving the tongue
  • Ear pain
  • Feeling like there’s something stuck in your throat
  • A lump that bleeds
  • Numbness in an area of the mouth or tongue
  • Tongue, jaw, or throat pain
  • Voice changes
  • A white or red patch 

Keep in mind, many of these symptoms more likely signal a noncancerous condition. But if any persist for more than two weeks, see your Dignity Health doctor or dentist right away. Timely diagnosis and treatment leads to a better outcome, no matter the cause.

Tongue Cancer Causes

Tobacco use causes most oral cancers, including tongue cancer. This includes using snuff or chewing tobacco as well as smoking cigarettes, cigars, pipes, and, possibly, marijuana. The more you chew, use, or smoke, and the longer you do it, the greater your risk of developing cancer. Heavy alcohol use also greatly increases risk.

Other people at greater risk include those who:

  • Are African American
  • Are 40 or older
  • Have an HPV infection
  • Are male

Dignity Health Tongue Cancer Treatments

Our team of Bay Area specialists will work with you to diagnose tongue cancer and come up with a personalized treatment plan that works for you. 

The stage of your cancer plays an important role in your treatment options. Surgery is usually the first treatment. Radiation therapy with or without chemotherapy is often necessary afterward. Targeted therapy may be an option for some tumors. 

Taking steps to prevent tongue cancer is essential, so your doctors will work with you to change risk factors you can control, especially smoking and alcohol use. It can be challenging, but doctors at Dignity Health in the Bay Area will help you to find the right programs and treatment plans for tongue cancer that work for you.

Dignity Health offers a full range of care for all types of oral cancer, including tongue cancer, in San Francisco, Santa Cruz, and Redwood City.