Hard palate cancer affects the bony part of the roof of the mouth. It can cause noticeable growths and symptoms such as bad breath and loose teeth. Treatment typically involves surgery and radiation therapy.

Hard palate cancer is rare. It affects the hard palate, also known as the roof of the mouth.

This article outlines the different types of hard palate cancers. It also provides an overview of hard palate cancer symptoms, prevalence, risk factors, diagnosis, treatment, and outlook.

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The following pictures indicate what hard palate cancer can sometimes look like.

According to a 2023 article, many cancers can develop on or affect the hard palate, including the following:

Different forms of cancer affect different cells or structures on or around the hard palate. For instance, mucoepidermoid carcinoma and polymorphous low grade adenocarcinoma affect cells of the salivary glands.

Learn more about types of salivary gland cancer.

Hard palate cancers account for between 1% and 3.5% of oral cavity cancers.

A 2022 article notes that cancers of the oral cavity account for around 2% of all cancers.

However, the prevalence of oral cancer is decreasing worldwide.

Possible symptoms of hard palate cancers include:

People with hard palate cancer may also notice a mass growing on or around their palate. The mass may or may not be painful. These tumors are often slow-growing.

They may range in color from blue to yellow to black. Red and white masses are also possible.

Hard palate cancers occur when genetic mutations cause cells of the hard palate to grow irregularly. They may die too slowly, develop too rapidly, or divide too often.

Experts remain unsure about the exact causes of hard palate cancers. Genetic mutations can arise for many reasons. Certain risk factors may make a person more likely to develop genetic mutations in hard palate cells.

Hard palate cancer risk factors include:

Being older is also a risk factor for the following hard palate cancers:

  • adenoid cystic carcinoma
  • mucoepidermoid carcinoma
  • polymorphous low grade adenocarcinoma
  • low grade papillary adenocarcinoma
  • acinic cell carcinoma

According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), doctors may perform the following tests to make a hard palate cancer diagnosis:

  • a physical exam of the inside of the mouth
  • a biopsy of tissues inside of the mouth
  • an exfoliative cytology, which involves taking swabs to collect cells from the mouth
  • imaging tests, including MRI, CT, and PET scans

Physical exams can help doctors identify abnormal growths. Biopsies and exfoliative cytology can test cells to determine whether they are cancerous. Imaging techniques can detect whether and how far the cancer might have spread.

Doctors may also recommend a bone scan. This involves injecting a small amount of radioactive material into a vein. The radioactive material collects in cancer cells present inside the bones. Doctors can then determine whether there is cancer in the bones around the hard palate. However, they may be more likely to recommend a PET scan to gather this information.

Latest advances in diagnosis

There are no recent significant advances in how doctors diagnose hard palate cancers.

There are two main treatment options for hard palate cancers: surgery and radiation therapy.

The goal of surgery is to remove as many tumors from the hard palate as possible. Surgery may damage parts of the mouth, so people may need additional operations, such as reconstructive surgery, to restore the appearance and function of their oral cavity.

Radiation therapy uses radiation to kill cancer cells or slow their growth. Doctors may recommend this before surgery to help shrink any growths. They may also recommend radiation therapy after surgery to kill any remaining cancer cells.

Latest advances in treatment

Scientists are currently running trials for other hard palate cancer treatments, such as:

  • chemotherapy
  • hyper-fractionated radiation therapy (radiation therapy in smaller doses)
  • hyperthermia therapy, which involves heating cancer cells to kill them or make them more sensitive to other treatments

Research has shown that hard palate cancers tend to be more aggressive than other oral cavity cancers. However, treatment for hard palate cancers can be quite effective.

The 5-year survival rates for some hard palate cancers can be quite high:

  • between 41% and 81% for squamous cell carcinoma
  • between 40% and 90% for adenoid cystic carcinoma
  • over 90% for mucoepidermoid carcinoma
  • up to 98.6% for polymorphous low grade adenocarcinoma
  • around 88.6% for acinic cell carcinoma

Anyone with symptoms of hard palate cancer should make an appointment with a healthcare professional, especially if they have hard palate cancer risk factors.

While other conditions can cause similar symptoms, a timely diagnosis may help improve a person’s outlook.

A person may feel overwhelmed and scared after receiving a hard palate cancer diagnosis. They may need help coping with their diagnosis and find it helpful to reach out to friends and family for support. Loved ones can help with day-to-day tasks such as getting to treatment appointments.

The American Cancer Society (ACS) also provides a 24/7 helpline, alongside free transport and accommodation for treatment.

An individual may also be able to find support through a cancer center.

People with hard palate cancer may experience pain, loose teeth, and bleeding. They may also notice growths on the hard palate. Hard palate cancers are a particularly aggressive form of oral cavity cancer.

Healthcare professionals typically recommend surgery and radiation therapy to treat hard palate cancers. While it is an aggressive form of the disease, the outlook for many hard palate cancers is positive. Treatment may involve surgery and radiation therapy.