Salivary gland tumors are growths of abnormal cells that originate in the salivary glands, usually in the parotid glands.
Salivary glands produce saliva, which helps keep the mouth most, supports teeth health and aids in digestion. The three main types of salivary glands are parotid, sublingual and submandibular. Other smaller salivary glands are located in the lips, inside the cheeks and throughout the mouth and throat.
Individuals with salivary gland tumors may experience the following symptoms:
- Difficulty swallowing
- Numbness in part of the face
- Difficulty opening the mouth widely
- Persistent pain in a salivary gland
- Muscle weakness on one side of the face
- A lump or swelling on or near the jaw or in the neck or mouth
Salivary gland tumors form when cells in a salivary gland mutate and continue to grow and divide rapidly. These cells then form salivary gland tumors. If additional changes occur in the DNA, the abnormal cells may become cancerous and spread to other parts of the body.
Types of Salivary Gland Tumors
Types of noncancerous salivary gland tumors include:
- Pleomorphic adenoma
- Basal cell adenoma
- Canalicular adenoma
- Warthin tumor
Types of cancerous salivary gland tumors include:
- Acinic cell carcinoma
- Adenoid cystic carcinoma
- Clear cell carcinoma
- Malignant mixed tumor
- Mucoepidermoid carcinoma
- Oncocytic carcinoma
- Polymorphous low-grade adenocarcinoma
- Salivary duct carcinoma
- Squamous cell carcinoma
The following factors may increase an individual’s risk of developing salivary gland tumors:
- Older age
- Exposure to radiation
- Workplace exposure to substances used in rubber manufacturing, asbestos mining and plumbing
When to Consult a Doctor
Individuals with persistent signs or symptoms of salivary gland tumors should schedule an appointment with their physician. Most salivary gland tumors are noncancerous, but patients should see their physician to rule out cancer.
Diagnosing Salivary Gland Tumors
To diagnose salivary gland tumors, the physician may perform a physical examination of the jaw, neck and throat to check for lumps or swelling.
Imaging tests such as MRI, CT, PET, ultrasound or X-ray may be performed to help the physician determine the size and location of the salivary gland tumor.
A sample of tissue may be collected using a fine-needle aspiration or a core needle biopsy. The sample is then analyzed in a lab to determine what types of cells are involved and if the cells are cancerous.
Treatment Options for Salivary Gland Tumors
Salivary gland tumors may be treated with surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy.
During surgery, the surgeon may:
- Remove a portion of the affected salivary gland along with a small portion of healthy tissue that surrounds it
- Remove the entire salivary gland if the tumor is large, along with other nearby structures if the tumor has spread
- Remove lymph nodes in the neck if the salivary gland is cancerous or if there’s a risk that the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes
- Perform reconstructive surgery to repair the area once the tumor has been removed; reconstructive surgery will help improve the patient’s ability to chew, swallow, speak, breathe and move their face