Palate cancer can form in the back, "soft palate" region of the mouth's roof or in the front, "hard palate" region. In either case, early detection of the disease is imperative for improving treatment options. Many of the symptoms for this type of mouth cancer are hard to detect, since early tumors are not painful. Some symptoms such as persistent bad breath, mouth lesions, and loose teeth can usually be an indication of the cancer.
Spotting the early symptoms of palate cancer takes preemptive measures. It may reveal itself in a foul odor in the breath that is not much diminished after brushing. Also, a non-painful white or red lesion might appear on the roof of the mouth and not go away. White lesions are called leukoplakia, while the red ones are called erythroplakia; both are potential precursors to cancerous tissue.
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The teeth might feel a little loose, too, in the early stages. If the patient wears dentures, he or she may notice discomfort where none existed before. Teeth will feel looser as the disease progresses. It also may become progressively harder to swallow.
As with many cancers, the symptoms of palate cancer become intensified and more noticeable if not caught in the earliest of stages. The mouth may become difficult to open, a condition called trismus. Speech patterns may change, and some words may become hard to pronounce.
Any lesions found in later stages are more apt to be raw and possibly bleeding. Teeth may start to fall out completely at this stage, and overall skin swelling in the front or rear palates could occur. Later-stage lesions will be easy to spot, because by this point they are likely to hurt, especially when touched. Some are so pronounced that a lump may protrude from somewhere along the neck.
Many scientists point the finger at tobacco and alcohol consumption as prominent risk factors for developing soft palate cancer. Cedar-Sinai Medical Center blames "reverse smoking" for contributing to hard palate cancers; this is a process of placing the lit end of a cigarette in the mouth, instead of the other way around. Genetics and environmental influences can also factor in as risks.
Once a few symptoms are noticed, patients should visit a doctor. A variety of tests, from PET and CT scans to a orthopantomography, are designed to help physicians gauge the extent of tumor growth. Once diagnosed, the cancer is treated with radiation therapy and surgery to remove any tumors.