What is salivary gland cancer?
Salivary gland cancer is a disease in which cancerous cells are found in one of three main types of salivary glands. Patients can have the tumor appear in the parotid glands, submandibular glands or the minor salivary glands (including sublingual glands). The tumor's location significantly affects the likelihood of a cancer diagnosis. A majority of tumors in the parotid glands are benign, about half of tumors in the submandibular glands are cancerous and tumors in the minor salivary glands have a high risk of being cancerous.
What are the symptoms of salivary gland cancer?
Patients with salivary gland cancer will have a lump or mass, but there may be no pain associated with the lump.
How is salivary gland cancer diagnosed?
A fine needle aspiration biopsy or incisional biopsy (for masses in the mouth or nose) is performed to determine whether the tumor is cancerous or benign. If the tumor is cancerous, the biopsy results and imaging of the tumor will also determine whether a patient has high-grade or low-grade salivary gland cancer. The grade is determined by the shape of the cells and the number of places where the cancerous cells are actively dividing. Patients with high-grade salivary gland cancer will undergo a different treatment plan than those with low-grade salivary gland cancer.
Salivary Gland Cancer Treatment
Regardless of grade, most patients will undergo surgery to remove the tumor. However, patients with high-grade salivary gland cancer will undergo radiation therapy following their operation. Some salivary gland cancer patients are candidates for transoral robotic surgery.
Reviewed by Hamad Chaudhary, M.D., M.S., from the Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery.