Hard palate cancer is a rare cancer that forms on the roof of your mouth. Healthcare providers treat this condition with surgery that removes cancerous tumors. People who have surgery often need reconstructive surgery and extensive post-surgery support to help them eat, swallow and speak.
Hard palate cancer is cancer on the roof of your mouth. It’s a relatively rare form of oral cancer. Hard palate cancer includes squamous cell carcinoma and certain types of salivary gland cancer. (In hard palate cancer, squamous cell carcinoma starts in flat cells lining the inside of your mouth.) Healthcare providers treat this condition with surgery. People who have surgery often need reconstructive surgery and extensive post-surgery support to help them eat, swallow and speak.
No, it’s not. Hard palate cancer is a type of oral cancer. Oral cancer makes up about 3% of all cancer cases in the U.S., and experts estimate hard palate cancer accounts for 1% to 5% of oral cancer cases.
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Other symptoms of hard palate cancer may include:
Medical researchers link hard palate cancer to tobacco use and drinking beverages that contain alcohol.
Left untreated, hard palate cancer may spread into lymph nodes in your neck and/or into your nasal passages. Cancer in your lymph nodes can travel through your lymphatic system to create new tumors, called metastases, in other areas of your body.
Healthcare providers will ask you about your symptoms. For example, they may ask some of the following questions:
They may ask you about personal habits. For example, they may ask:
They’ll look inside your mouth and check lymph nodes in your neck for signs of swelling.
Providers do biopsies to diagnose hard palate cancer, followed by imaging tests to determine tumor size and whether it’s spread.
Providers use biopsies to obtain tissue samples. Medical pathologists examine tissue samples under microscopes to determine if the tissues contain cancerous cells. (Medical pathologists specialize in examining body tissues and fluids.) In hard palate cancer, they may look for signs of salivary gland tumors, as well as squamous cell carcinoma. Procedures may include:
Imaging tests to diagnose hard palate cancer may include:
Healthcare providers use information from imaging tests and biopsies to establish cancer stages. Cancer staging describes how tumors are growing or spreading. Providers use the same cancer staging system for all types of oral cancer. They may characterize stages by numbered stages (Stages I through IV) or by tumor designation (T). Providers use the TNM system to stage hard palate cancer:
Providers designate tumors based on tumor size. They also consider how deep a tumor has spread down into your tissue (depth of invasion).
Providers combine tumor designation (T1 through T3) and TNM information to establish hard palate cancer stages:
Cancer staging systems help providers map out the most effective way to treat the condition. Cancer staging is a complicated process to complete, much less explain. If you’re confused or concerned by what you’re hearing, ask your provider to explain how the cancer staging system works in your situation.
Providers typically treat this condition with surgery to remove the tumor. If cancer has spread from your hard palate to lymph nodes in your neck, they may remove those lymph nodes. Hard palate cancer surgery may include:
Surgery to remove cancerous tumors in your hard palate may cause complications, including:
You may not be able to prevent hard palate cancer. However, you may be able to reduce your risk by avoiding certain activities that increase your risk of developing the condition:
Yes, surgery to remove small tumors may cure hard palate cancer. Larger tumors are more difficult to treat, and hard palate cancer can come back years after you’ve finished treatment.
If you have hard palate cancer, you may need help managing treatment side effects, such as eating and swallowing issues. Hard palate cancer may come back (recur), so you should plan on regular checkups so healthcare providers can monitor your overall health and watch for new cancer.
The National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) recommends continual follow-ups for at least 10 years after you complete treatment. The NCCN recommends the following schedule:
You may want to ask the following questions:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Hard palate cancer is cancer in the roof of your mouth. It’s a rare type of oral cancer. Healthcare providers can treat and possibly cure hard palate cancer with surgery to remove tumors from the roof of your mouth. But not everyone is able to have surgery for hard palate cancer, and surgery comes with side effects that can affect your quality of life. You may not be able to avoid hard palate cancer, but you can reduce your risk. Risk factors for hard palate cancer include tobacco use and drinking beverages that contain alcohol. If you use tobacco, ask a healthcare provider about quitting smoking.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 02/27/2023.
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