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What Are the Signs of Salivary Gland Cancers?

Salivary gland tumors are abnormal growths of cells in the salivary glands.Salivary gland tumors are abnormal growths of cells in the salivary glands.

The salivary glands produce saliva that is important to lubricate the oral cavity, help with swallowing, digest food, and protect the teeth from bacteria. There are three major pairs of salivary glands are:

  • Parotid glands are present on both sides of the insides of the cheeks
  • Submandibular glands are present at the floor of the mouth
  • Sublingual glands are present under the tongue

There are also many minor salivary glands throughout the oral cavity and throat.

Salivary gland tumors are abnormal growths of cells in the salivary glands. They can arise from any of the salivary glands. Salivary gland cancers are rare. Benign (noncancerous) growths of the salivary glands are more common.

What are the signs of salivary gland cancers?

In the initial stages, there may not be any symptoms. People with salivary gland cancer may experience the following symptoms and signs:

  • A lump, which is usually painless, on the face, neck, or mouth
  • Numbness over the face
  • Restriction of movement of certain facial muscles due to facial nerve paralysis
  • Difficulty opening the mouth
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Pain and/or swelling in the face, chin, jaw, or neck
  • Asymmetry of the face and/or neck

How is salivary gland cancer diagnosed?

The doctor would perform a complete physical exam of any swellings or lumps in the mouth, jaw, neck, and throat. 

  • Radiological tests, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), computerized tomography (CT), positron emission tomography (PET), ultrasound, or X-ray may be advised.
  • The biopsy is a procedure performed to collect a sample of abnormal tissue using fine-needle aspiration or a core needle biopsy technique. The tissue is then sent to the lab for analysis by the pathologist to determine the type of cancer.

How is salivary gland cancer treated?

Treatment for salivary gland tumors is usually surgery with additional treatments, such as radiation therapy and chemotherapy.

  • Surgery: Surgery for salivary gland tumors may involve the removal of a part of the affected salivary gland or the entire salivary gland, depending on the size of the tumor. The lymph nodes in the neck may be removed even before they are affected to reduce the risk of spread. After removal of the surgery, reconstructive surgery may be performed to repair the area and restore function to improve the ability to breathe, speak, chew, swallow, and move the face.
  • Radiation therapy: Radiation therapy involves using high-powered energy beams, such as X-rays, to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors.
  • Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy involves using medications to kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy isn't currently used as a standard treatment for salivary gland cancer. They are also beneficial in the case of metastasis.
  • Supportive (palliative) care: Palliative care involves providing relief from pain and other symptoms due to a serious illness when it is not treatable.

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