Discover how salivary gland cancer treatment can help you preserve healthy tissue.
The sublingual, submandibular, and parotid salivary glands are situated under and behind the jaw near the ears. It is possible for malignant tumors to develop in any of these glands. The salivary glands are responsible for producing the saliva that is necessary for:
The most common cancers affecting the salivary glands include adenoid cystic cancer, acinic cell cancer, and mucoepidermoid cancer. Although not as common, squamous cell carcinomas, adenocarcinomas, and salivary duct carcinomas can also occur.
Risk Factors for Salivary Gland Cancer
An individual’s risk of salivary cancer increases with age. Other factors that may contribute to the development of salivary gland cancer include:
A history of radiation treatments to the head and neck
Exposure to rubber, lead, plastic, or asbestos manufacturing products
Salivary Gland Cancer Symptoms
One of the most obvious symptoms of salivary gland tumors is the presence of a firm lump in the neck near where the glands are located. Depending on the size and location of the tumor, the patient may experience pain, numbness, or weakness along one side of the face. It may also be difficult or painful to swallow or open the mouth widely. It is possible for non-cancerous tumors of the salivary glands to cause the same symptoms, so it is important to consult a medical professional as soon as possible for an accurate diagnosis.
Diagnosing Salivary Gland Cancer
Imaging tests, such as MRIs or CTs, and a biopsy may be performed to confirm the presence and extent of any malignancy.
Treatment of Salivary Gland Cancer
With early detection and treatment, patients with salivary gland cancer have a good prognosis. The specific treatment depends on the type of cancer and whether it has spread to the nearby lymph nodes or other parts of the body. Certain salivary gland cancers are more aggressive than others and require more aggressive treatments.
In most cases, an otolaryngologist will perform a surgical procedure to remove the tumor and any affected salivary glands. The tumor is then examined under a microscope to determine if the cancer is advanced and high-grade, or in the early stages and low-grade. If the cancer has spread to lymph nodes in the neck, a procedure known as a neck dissection may be needed to remove the affected lymph nodes. The lymphatic system is responsible for carrying the white blood cells that help fight infection throughout the body. When cancer enters the lymphatic system, it can easily be spread to organs that are far from the original site of the tumor. The goal of the neck dissection is to remove the cancer while preserving the maximum amount of healthy tissue.
Depending on the circumstances, reconstructive surgery may be required following the removal of the tumor and lymph nodes. If the cancer is considered high-grade, surgery may be followed by radiation or chemotherapy to destroy any cancer cells that may remain following surgery.