There are numerous causes of red spots on the tongue, and unfortunately, cancer is one of them.

However, this isn’t the most likely cause of what you might perceive to be red “spots” on your tongue. Let’s first look at non-malignant causes.

“Vitamin B12 deficiency can cause red spots on the tongue,” says Richard Bezozo, MD, President of MoleSafe, the world’s most advanced melanoma screening program.

He says that scarlet fever and strep infection can also cause red spots on the tongue.

“Thrush, a yeast infection of the mucus membrane lining the mouth and tongue, can also cause red spots,” says Dr. Bezozo.

“Common causes of yeast infection oral candidiasis include antibiotic use, HIV infection or other immunodeficiency conditions.”

Tongue Cancer Appearance

One of the first symptoms is a red (or white) patch, which can be anywhere on this muscle.

The discolored area can also look more like a spot than a patch, but it’s actually more likely to resemble a patch or splotch.

The lesion has raised edges and is firm. As it grows it gets harder. The center of the lesion bleeds easily with applied pressure, such as when chewing or even swallowing, which break open the lesions.

Other Symptoms of Tongue Cancer

  • Pain when swallowing or without
  • The tongue is stiff.
  • Feeling that something is stuck in the throat.
  • Problems chewing or a stiff-feeling jaw
  • Tasting blood (from bleeding in the mouth)
  • Numbness involving the mouth

Risk Factors

  • Any kind of tobacco use
  • Heavy drinking (combination of smoking and heavy drinking significantly boosts risk)
  • Standard American diet: lots of processed foods, few fruits and vegetables
  • History of an HPV infection
  • Family history of oral cancer
  • Male, over age 50
  • Chronic acid reflux
  • Exposure to asbestos or formaldehyde
  • Poor oral hygiene
  • Bad fitting dentures

Malignant lesions may be tender. Beware of red spots on the tongue that bleed; this is a strong indication of cancer.

Lorra Garrick has been covering medical, fitness and 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.  
There are more new cases yearly of skin cancer than breast, prostate, lung and colon cancers combined. The MoleSafe system produces high-resolution diagnostic images and creates a profile for your skin that’s monitored for any changes in moles.