What is salivary gland cancer?
Your salivary glands make saliva – sometimes called spit – and produce it into your mouth through openings called ducts. Saliva makes your food moist, which helps you chew and swallow, as well as digests your food and cleans your mouth by antibodies that can kill germs.
You have three pairs of major salivary glands under and behind your jaw – parotid, sublingual and submandibular. Many other tiny salivary glands are in your lips, inside your cheeks, and throughout your mouth and throat. Salivary gland cancer most commonly occurs in the parotid gland, which is just in front of the ear.
How common is salivary gland cancer?
Salivary gland cancer can affect patients at any age. It can be managed by reducing your risk factors. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.
What are the symptoms of salivary gland cancer?
The common symptoms of salivary gland cancer are:
- A lump or swelling on or near your jaw or in your neck or mouth
- Numbness in part of your face
- Muscle weakness on one side of your face
- Persistent pain in the area of a salivary gland
- Difficulty swallowing
- Trouble opening your mouth widely
Having a lump or area of swelling near your salivary gland is the most common sign of a salivary gland tumor, but it doesn’t mean you have cancer. Most salivary gland tumors are noncancerous (benign). Many other noncancerous conditions may lead to a swollen salivary gland, including an infection or a stone in a salivary gland duct.
There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.
When should I see my doctor?
If you have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consult with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.
What causes salivary gland cancer?
It’s not clear what causes salivary gland cancer. Doctors know salivary gland cancer occurs when some cells in a salivary gland develop mutations in their DNA. The mutations allow the cells to grow and divide rapidly. The mutated cells continue living when other cells would die. The accumulating cells form a tumor that can invade nearby tissue. Cancerous cells can break off and spread (metastasize) to distant areas of the body.
What increases my risk for salivary gland cancer?
There are many risk factors for salivary gland cancer, such as:
- Older age. Though it can occur at any age, salivary gland cancer is most commonly diagnosed in older adults.
- Radiation exposure. Radiation, such as radiation used to treat head and neck cancers, increases the risk of salivary gland cancer.
- Workplace exposure to certain substances. People who work with certain substances may have an increased risk of salivary gland cancer. Jobs associated with salivary gland cancer include those involved in rubber manufacturing, asbestos mining and plumbing.
- Certain viruses. Viruses associated with salivary gland cancer include HIV and the Epstein-Barr virus. Human papillomavirus, which is associated with several other types of head and neck cancers, doesn’t appear to increase the risk of salivary gland cancer.
- Tobacco use increases the risk of many types of head and neck cancers, but it doesn’t appear to play a role in the development of salivary gland cancer.
Diagnosis & Treatment
The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.
How is salivary gland cancer diagnosed?
Tests and procedures used to diagnose salivary gland cancer include:
- A physical exam. Your doctor will feel your jaw, neck and throat for lumps or swelling.
- Imaging tests. Imaging tests, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computerized tomography (CT), may help your doctor determine the size and location of your salivary gland cancer.
- Collecting a sample of tissue for testing. Your doctor may recommend collecting a sample of tissue (biopsy) for laboratory testing.
After your cancer is diagnosed, your doctor will determine the extent (stage) of your cancer. Your cancer’s stage determines your treatment options and gives your doctor an idea of your prognosis.
How is salivary gland cancer treated?
Treatment for salivary gland cancer depends on the type, size and stage of salivary gland cancer you have, as well as your overall health and your preferences. Salivary gland cancer treatment usually involves surgery, with or without radiation therapy.
Surgery for salivary gland cancer may include:
- Removing a portion of the affected salivary gland if your cancer is small and located in an easy-to-access spot.
- Removing the entire salivary gland if you have a larger tumor, or if your cancer extends into nearby structures.
- Removing lymph nodes in your neck. If there’s evidence that cancer has spread to the lymph nodes in your neck, your surgeon may remove most of the lymph nodes in your neck (neck dissection).
- Reconstructive surgery. If bone, skin or nerves are removed during your surgery, these may need to be repaired or replaced with reconstructive surgery.
Radiation therapy uses high-powered energy beams, such as X-rays, to kill cancer cells. During radiation therapy, you lie on a table while a machine moves around you, directing high-powered beams at specific points on your body. Radiation therapy can be used after surgery to kill any cancer cells that might remain. If surgery isn’t possible because a tumor is very large or is located in a place that makes removal too risky, radiation alone may be used to treat salivary gland cancer.
Chemotherapy is a drug treatment that uses chemicals to kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy may be an option for people with advanced salivary gland cancer that has spread to distant areas of their bodies. Chemotherapy isn’t currently used as a standard treatment for salivary gland cancer, but researchers are studying its use.
Lifestyle changes & Home remedies
What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage salivary gland cancer?
The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with salivary gland cancer:
- Brush your teeth several times each day. Use a soft-bristled toothbrush and gently brush your teeth several times each day. Tell your doctor if your mouth becomes too sensitive to tolerate gentle brushing.
- Rinse your mouth with warm salt water after meals. Make a mild solution of warm water and salt. Rinse your mouth with this solution after each meal.
- Keep your mouth moistened with water or sugarless candies. Drink water throughout the day to keep your mouth moistened. Also try sugarless gum or sugarless candies to stimulate your mouth to produce saliva.
- Choose moist foods. Avoid dry foods. Moisten dry food with sauce, gravy, broth, butter or milk.
- Avoid acidic or spicy foods and drinks. Choose foods and drinks that won’t irritate your mouth. Avoid caffeinated and alcoholic beverages.
If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
Salivary gland cancer. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/salivary-gland-cancer/basics/definition/con-20029305. Accessed Mar 2, 2017.
Salivary Gland Cancer. https://medlineplus.gov/salivaryglandcancer.html. Accessed Mar 2, 2017.
Review Date: March 2, 2017 | Last Modified: April 14, 2017