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The tongue plays a fairly large role, one that becomes evident when we experience any type of tongue pain. For example, a mild burn on the tongue from eating hot foods or liquids can result in redness and discomfort that may take up to two weeks to resolve. However, sometimes tongue pain can be a symptom of a much more serious condition, such as oral cancer. Schedule an appointment for an oral cancer screening if you:

  • Have severe or unexplained tongue pain that persists for several days
  • See red or white patches on your tongue
  • Experience persistent pain and itchiness that doesn’t improve or gets worse
  • Notice hard sores, lumps or bumps on your tongue

You can choose to see either a dentist or a doctor for this screening, although many people choose to see a dentist due to their specialized knowledge of oral health. If further testing is recommended due to an abnormal screening, your dentist will likely collaborate with your doctor on the next steps.

What to expect during an oral cancer screening

An oral cancer screening will involve a discussion of your medical history to determine if you have any risk factors associated with oral cancer, such as smoking tobacco, drinking alcohol or having a family history of cancer. Your doctor or dentist will also want to learn more about the symptoms you’re experiencing and ask questions, such as:

  • How long have you been experiencing tongue issues?
  • Can you rate your pain on a scale of 1-10?
  • Has your taste changed since you started having these tongue issues?
  • Is it difficult to move your tongue?
  • Have you experienced any other symptoms aside from the tongue pain, swelling or redness?

The clinician will also thoroughly examine the inside and outside of your mouth and throat to check for any abnormalities, such as patches of color, bumps, firm nodules or masses. Specialty tools, such as a laser light or blue dye, may be used to further evaluate abnormal areas.

Moffitt Cancer Center’s approach to oral cancer

If you would like to consult with an oncologist in the Head and Neck Cancer Program at Moffitt Cancer Center about the tongue issues you are experiencing, call us at 1-888-663-3488 or submit a new patient registration form online.