doctor examining tongue

Find out if cancer can cause the tongue to develop red patches.

Have you noticed red patches on your tongue and are afraid it might be cancer? Well, here is some very reassuring news for you…

The most likely cause of red patches on the tongue is a condition called geographic tongue.

What on earth is geographic tongue?

“Geographic tongue describes an inflammatory condition of the tongue that manifests as discolored taste buds,” explains Dr. Rebecca Tung, MD, director of the dermatology division at Loyola University Health System, Chicago.

This condition has nothing to do with cancer and will not increase the risk of cancer.

“The red patches are often bordered by white rims—burning and stinging can also be present,” continues Dr. Tung.

The condition looks and feels bad, but is actually benign.

What are the causes and risk factors?

Dr. Tung explains, “Common causes include certain foods, mouth preparations like mouthwash. Also, people with a past history of allergies, hay fever, asthma may have geographic tongue.

“Other risk factors are juvenile diabetes, hormonal shifts in a woman’s cycle or pregnancy or nutritional deficiencies (like having a low level folate or B12 in your body).

“Even patients with the skin disease psoriasis (scaly areas on the forearms near the elbows and knees) also have a high incidence of geographic tongue.”

If you tend to have anxiety over cancer of the tongue (perhaps you’re a tobacco user or for whatever reason have fixated on this body part), this would be one more reason to see your dentist on a regular basis.

Many dentists will do a thorough oral cancer screening as part of the routine exam.

They may charge an extra fee for it, but the fee isn’t that much, and it’s well worth it for patients with tongue and mouth cancer anxiety.

Dr. Tung’sdr. tung specialties include general dermatology with skin cancer surveillance, moles, melanoma, surgery (Mohs micrographic, laser, skin cancer reconstruction) and cosmetic dermatology.
Lorra Garrick has been covering medical, fitness and personal/cybersecurity topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer.