Signs The Sore In Your Mouth Needs Medical Attention

Sores in your mouth are a common cause of pain. For instance, you can develop a canker sore on the roof of your mouth. It's also possible you caused trauma to the roof of your mouth with that sip of hot coffee or cut it on a sharp tortilla chip. However, sometimes, the sore can be a warning sign of cancer.

According to the American Cancer Society, about 54,000 new oral cavity cancer cases are diagnosed each year. This area of the mouth includes the tongue, tonsils, gums, and roof of the mouth, called the palate. The palate plays an essential role in separating the mouth from the nasal cavity, and it's broken into two parts, per StatPearls. The hard palate is the ridged area located behind your front teeth, commonly considered to be the roof of your mouth. The soft palate is behind the hard palate, leading to your nasal cavity. 

We'll take you through the different types of palate cancer and their warning signs. We'll also help you determine other risk factors you might have for a palate cancer diagnosis so you can get the proper treatment.

Symptoms and risk factors for hard palate cancer

Statistics within StatsPearl state that 1%-5% of cancers in the oral cavity are found in the hard palate. The most common cancer in the oral cavity is squamous cell carcinoma, accounting for 2% of diagnoses in the hard palate. Other common cancers include adenoid cystic carcinoma, mucoepidermoid carcinoma, and low-grade papillary adenocarcinomas.

The most common symptom of hard palate cancer is a sore or sores that don't go away within a few weeks, according to Cleveland Clinic. Sufferers also experience bad breath, trouble swallowing, neck lumps, changes in speech, and discomfort in the mouth, particularly if they wear dentures. Furthermore, MD Anderson Cancer Center states that this disease can present as a new rough white patch on the palate. A type of palate cancer called "mucosal melanoma" includes a dark area similar to a mole. Since this type of hard palate cancer is more challenging to distinguish, it will generally be caught by a dentist during annual exams.

Specific cancers, like adenoid cystic carcinoma, are due to a genetic mutation; but other cancers, like squamous cell carcinoma of the hard palate, have been linked to excessive tobacco and alcohol use. MD Anderson Cancer Center also mentioned chewing betel nuts as a risk factor.

Diagnosis, staging, and treatment of hard palate cancer

Any abnormalities, like sores and rough patches that don't heal after a few weeks, should be checked out by a medical practitioner. Suspicious sores require a biopsy to be performed. According to the Mayo Clinic, a small sample of tissue from the roof of your mouth will be taken and looked at under a microscope. If malignant cells are found, you'll typically undergo a CT or MRI scan. The MD Anderson Cancer Center states that the type of scan used is going to depend on what they are looking for. For example, a CT looks for cancer in bone structures, while an MRI distinguishes cancerous cells in tissues. 

Your cancer will then be staged. The tumor designation stages range from Tis (a very early cancer) to stage T4 (has grown into the nearby bones). Each tumor designation is then staged based on how far they've spread in the body from Stage I (less than 5 millimeters into the tissue) to Stage IVc (spread beyond the lymph nodes to other areas of the body). StatPearls notes that 60%-74% of those diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma in the hard palate are stage IV when the cancer is found.

Treatment includes a combination of surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, and immunotherapy. Other targeted treatments like proton therapy might also used. Many times, patients need prosthetics or reconstructive surgery to help with eating and communication.