The palate is nothing but the roof of the mouth, divided into two parts. The bony hard palate in the front is a part of the oral cavity and the fleshy soft palate (velum) in the back of the mouth is a part of the oropharynx. Palate cancer can occur either in hard palate or soft palate.
Signs and Symptoms
Initially the signs and symptoms are noticed as an ulcer formation in the mouth. Some of the early symptoms include:
- Foul odor in the breath
- A non-painful white or red lesion on the roof of the mouth
- As the mass grows it can bleed
- Loose teeth or dentures no longer fit
- Changes in speech
- Difficulty swallowing
- Unable to open the jaw (trismus)
- A lump in the neck
Causes and Risk Factors
- The causes may differ for soft palate and hard palate cancer. The major risk factors for cancer of the soft palate include consuming tobacco and alcohol regularly.
- The major risk for hard palate cancer is reverse smoking. It generates intense heat when the lit end of the cigarette is placed in the mouth which ultimately results in hard palate cancer.
Tests and Procedures
Diagnosing the cancer in its initial stage makes the treatment very successful. The tests are also beneficial in finding whether the cancer has spread beyond the palate.
- Physical examination: The surgeon will thoroughly check the palate with the use of a mirror or a small, flexible scope.
- Blood tests
- Fine Needle Aspiration Biopsy (FNA): A thin needle is placed into the mouth. The cells are aspirated, and then examined under a microscope.
- Orthopantomography (Panorex): This panoramic X-ray of the upper and lower jaw presents the health specialist a view from ear to ear and to determine if a tumor has grown into the jaw bone.
- CT scan: This imaging technique is a special type of x-ray that makes a series of detailed pictures of inner areas of the mouth and neck. The scan is performed by injecting a dye into a vein or taken directly in the form of a pill to highlight the organs or tissues.
- MRI (magnetic resonance imaging): The scanner uses a magnet and radio waves to make detailed pictures of inner areas of mouth and neck.
- PET scan (positron emission tomography): Through a scanner, it makes the pictures of inside area of the body after injecting a radioactive glucose (sugar) into a vein. As the cancer cells feed more on radioactive glucose, the tumor is highlighted in the pictures.
Once the stage and type of palate cancer is identified i.e. hard or soft, the doctor will determine the treatment required.
- Surgery – the most recommended for Hard Palate Cancer
It is the most preferred treatment for cancer of the hard palate. The cancer cells observed in the bone closest to the tumor and part of it may be removed.
- Radiation Therapy – appropriate treatment for Cancer of the Soft Palate
Radiation therapy is the primary treatment for moderate or advanced soft palate cancer and is often recommended to treat all stages of soft palate cancer. Through radiation the small cancer cells deposited in the neck or soft palate that could not be removed during surgery are effectively destroyed.
- Laser microsurgery: It is used for small and medium-sized tumors.
- IMRT (Intensity Modulated Radiation Therapy): It determines the required dosage of radiation to a tumor or an area of a tumor minimizing the radiation exposure to the surrounding normal tissue.
- Chemotherapy: It involves usage of drugs that circulates in the blood and disrupts the growth of the cancer cells. Chemotherapy medications are taken either orally or given through a vein for several months.
- Chemoradiation: An effective treatment including both Radiation Therapy and Chemotherapy.
- Transoral laser microsurgery: It is used to preserve normal tissues, causes less pain, and helps to maintain speech and swallowing.
To stay away from cancer or any other disease it is always beneficial to maintain healthy habits. The major preventive steps include limiting the intake of alcohol and smoking and simultaneously maintaining good oral hygiene.
Side effects of treatment vary, depending on the type, stage and location of the tumor being treated. Side effects can be temporary or permanent. The following are some of the more common side effects of palate cancer treatment:
- Swelling from surgery
- Sore mouth
- Difficulty chewing, swallowing, or talking
- Weight loss due to a sore mouth, which may make eating difficult
- Inability to wear dentures for a period of time
- Depending on the type of treatment, other side effects may include:
- Dental problems
- Lowered immune system
- Lack of appetite
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