Salivary Gland Cancer

At a Glance

  • Salivary gland cancer is a rare disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the tissues of the salivary glands.
  • This cancer has an overall incidence in the Western world of approximately 2.5 cases to 3.0 cases per 100,000 per year.
  • Most patients with malignant salivary gland tumors are in the sixth or seventh decade of life.

 

About Salivary Gland Cancer

Salivary gland tumors are a morphologically and clinically diverse group of neoplasms, which may present significant diagnostic and management challenges. These tumors are rare, with an overall incidence in the Western world of approximately 2.5 cases to 3.0 cases per 100,000 per year.

Malignant salivary gland neoplasms account for more than 0.5% of all malignancies and approximately 3% to 5% of all head and neck cancers. Most patients with malignant salivary gland tumors are in the sixth or seventh decade of life.

Anatomy

The salivary glands make saliva and release it into the mouth. Saliva has enzymes that help digest food and antibodies that help protect against infections of the mouth and throat. There are 3 pairs of major salivary glands:

  • Parotid glands: These are the largest salivary glands and are found in front of and just below each ear. Most major salivary gland tumors begin in this gland.
  • Sublingual glands: These glands are found under the tongue in the floor of the mouth.
    • Submandibular glands: These glands are found below the jawbone.

 

Risk Factors

Anything that increases the chance of getting a disease is called a risk factor. Although the cause of most salivary gland cancers is not known, risk factors include the following:

  • Older age.
  • Treatment with radiation therapy to the head and neck.
  • Being exposed to certain substances at work.

 

Symptoms

Possible signs of salivary gland cancer include:

  • A lump (usually painless) in the area of the ear, cheek, jaw, lip, or inside the mouth.
  • Fluid draining from the ear.
  • Trouble swallowing or opening the mouth widely.
  • Numbness or weakness in the face.
  • Pain in the face that does not go away.