Salivary Gland Cancer - Causes, Symptoms & Treatment
Healthy Lifestyle

Salivary Gland Cancer - Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

About 70% of salivary gland tumors begin in the parotid glands, the largest salivary glands. Most of these tumors are benign (not cancer), but most malignant salivary gland tumors start here.

The submandibular glands are more minor and are located under the chin. They discharge saliva under the tongue. About half of the diagnosed tumors in this area are cancer.

Tumors that begin in the sublingual glands, the smallest salivary glands, are rare.  They are located under the floor of the mouth and on either side of the tongue.

Benign Salivary Gland Tumors

Most salivary gland tumors are benign – meaning they are not cancer and will not spread to other parts of the body. These tumors are rarely life-threatening.

There are many types of salivary gland tumors, including adenomas, oncocytomas, Warthin tumors, and benign mixed tumors (also known as pleomorphic adenomas).

Benign tumors almost always heal with surgery. They can rarely develop into cancer if left untreated for a long time or not entirely removed and returned. Exactly how benign tumors turn into cancer is not clear.

The probability of cancerous pleomorphic adenomas is 1-3%.

Malignant Salivary Gland Tumors

There are many types of salivary gland cancer. Normal salivary glands are made up of many different cells, and tumors can start in any of these cell types. Salivary gland cancers are named after these cell types that most closely resemble them when viewed under the microscope.

  • Mucoepidermoid carcinoma
  • Adenoid cystic carcinoma
  • Adenocarcinomas
  • A malignant mixed tumor (pleomorphic adenoma ex carcinoma)

It usually gives salivary gland cancers a grade (1 to 3 or low to high) based on how cancers look under a microscope. The grade provides a rough idea of ​​how fast it will grow and spread.

Grade 1 cancers look a lot like normal salivary gland cells. They grow slowly and have a good prognosis.

Grade 2 cancers appear between grade 1 and grade 3 cancers.

Grade 3 cancers look very different from normal cells and often grow and spread rapidly. The outlook for these cancers is usually not as good as for low-grade cancers.

Risk factors :

A risk factor is anything that affects your chances of getting a disease, such as cancer. Different cancers have different risk factors. Some risk factors, such as smoking, can be changed. Others, like a person's age or family history, cannot be changed.

Several risk factors are known to increase a person's chance of developing salivary gland cancer:

  • Senile
  • Male Gender
  • Radiation exposure
  • Exposure to certain radioactive substances in the workplace can also increase the risk of salivary gland cancer.
  • Family history
  • Tobacco and alcohol use
  • Daily inappropriate diet
  • Cell phone use

One study revealed an increased risk of parotid gland tumors among heavy mobile phone users. In this study, most tumors seen were benign (not cancer). Other studies looking at this topic have not found such a link. Research in this area is still ongoing.


  • A lump in your mouth, cheek, chin, or neck
  • Pain in your mouth not far from the cheek, cheek, jaw, ear, or neck
  • The difference between the size and/or shape of the left and right sides of your face or neck
  • Numbness in part of your face
  • Weakness of the muscles on one side of your face
  • Trouble opening your mouth widely
  • Draining fluid from an ear
  • Swallowing problem


Surgery is usually the primary treatment for salivary gland cancers. If your doctor believes you can remove it altogether, your cancer will likely be treated with surgery. (That is if the tumor is resectable.) Whether the cancer is resectable depends mainly on how far it has extended into nearby structures but also on the skill and experience of the surgeon.

In most cases, cancer and some or all of the surrounding salivary gland will be removed. Nearby soft tissue may also be removed. The goal is to have no cancer cells at the removed tumor's outer edges (edge). If the cancer is high grade (more likely to grow and spread faster) or spread to the lymph nodes, the t lymph nodes on the same side of the neck can be removed in a neck dissection procedure.

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