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Cancer of the Hard Palate

written by: Rishi Prakash • edited by: Diana Cooper • updated: 4/29/2011

Hard palate cancer, which is more common in men than women, is very rare. Smoking is considered as the main cause of this mouth cancer. Read the following article and learn more about the risk factors, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment options.

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    Hard Palate Cancer

    The hard palate is the bony part of the roof of the mouth, and is considered as part of the oral cavity. The hard palate forms a barrier linking the mouth and the nasal cavity. A natural orifice in the palate for nerves and blood vessels can make a duct for a tumor to spread into the nasal cavity.

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    Risk Factors

    Oral cavity cancer is more prevalent in men than women. This kind of cancer is closely linked with cigarette smoking. Reverse smoking has been found to be the main cause of hard palate cancer. In reverse smoking, an individual places the lit portion of the cigarette in his mouth. Alcohol also increases one's risk.

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    Symptoms

    In the early stages, hard palate cancer can appear like a risk-free sore and can happen without symptoms. However, early detection and treatment significantly improves survival rates. Therefore, in addition to checking one’s own mouth for suspicious changes, a dentist should inspect an individual’s mouth for signs of oral cancer during routine dental exams, particularly if one smokes.

    About 50 percent of hard palate cancers are squamous cell carcinomas. Typically, an ulcer in the mouth is first noted. In the beginning, the ulcer remains painless, but soon after becomes painful. Other symptoms include:

    • Bleeding
    • Foul mouth odor
    • Loose teeth
    • Changes in speech
    • Problem with swallowing
    • Not able to open the jaw
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    Diagnosis

    In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination, the surgeon will examine the palate with a mirror or a small, flexible scope. Diagnostic procedures include:

    Biopsy: This is a procedure where a tissue sample is taken and examined under a microscope to see if cancer cells are present.

    CT Scan: This is a procedure where a special type of X-ray is used to take a series of pictures with different angles inside the mouth.

    MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging): This is a technique that produces a two-dimensional view.

    Orthopantomography: This is a panoramic X-ray of the upper and lower jaw. It illustrates a view from ear to ear and helps establish if a tumor has grown into the jawbone.

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    Treatments

    Surgery

    Surgery is one of the most preferred treatments for patients suffering from hard palate cancer. The bone adjoining to the tumor contains malignant cells and therefore, a part of it also needs to be removed. In case of a small size tumor, the excised area is easily closed after the surgery. However, in case of a large tumor, it is very difficult to close the excised area and a prosthetic device is required to cover the opening in the roof of the mouth. The prosthetic looks very similar to a denture plate.

    Radiation Therapy

    Radiation therapy can be prescribed before or after surgery or sometimes as the sole treatment method. Radiation includes electron beams, high-energy X-rays or radioactive isotopes in order to destroy cancer cells.

    Intensity-Modulated Radiation Therapy (IMRT)

    This procedure uses a computer to deliver correct doses of radiation to a tumor or an area of a tumor. This technique helps minimize radiation exposure to the surrounding normal tissue. IMRT allows the use of more effectual radiation doses with fewer side effects as compared to the conventional radiotherapy techniques. After exposure to radiation, the cancer cells stop dividing and the growth of the tumor slows down. Radiotherapy also destroys cancer cells and can shrink or remove tumors. Radiation therapy involves five to six weeks of daily treatments.

    Chemotherapy

    Chemotherapy is used when the cancer spreads to lymph nodes or other organs of the body. The drug circulates in the blood and upsets the growth of the malignant cells. Chemotherapy drugs can be taken by mouth or given through a vein for several months. Chemotherapy is prescribed for various different reasons:

    • As an alternative to surgery when combined with radiotherapy, called chemoradiation.
    • After surgery to minimize the risk of relapse.
    • To slow the growth of a tumor and control symptoms when the cancer cannot be cured.

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