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Salivary Gland Cancer Treatment

General Information About Salivary Gland Cancer

Salivary gland cancer is a rare disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the tissues of the salivary glands.

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:

There are also hundreds of small (minor) salivary glands lining parts of the mouth, nose, and larynx that can be seen only with a microscope. Most small salivary gland tumors begin in the palate (roof of the mouth).

More than half of all salivary gland tumors are benign (not cancerous) and do not spread to other tissues.

Salivary gland cancer is a type of head and neck cancer.

Being exposed to certain types of radiation may increase the risk of salivary cancer.

Anything that increases the chance of getting a disease is called a risk factor. Having a risk factor does not mean that you will get cancer; not having risk factors doesn’t mean that you will not get cancer. People who think they may be at risk should discuss this with their doctor. Although the cause of most salivary gland cancers is not known, risk factors include the following:

Possible signs of salivary gland cancer include a lump or trouble swallowing.

Salivary gland cancer may not cause any symptoms. It is sometimes found during a regular dental check-up or physical exam. Symptoms caused by salivary gland cancer also may be caused by other conditions. A doctor should be consulted if any of the following problems occur:

Tests that examine the head, neck, and the inside of the mouth are used to detect (find) and diagnose salivary gland cancer.

The following procedures may be used:

Because salivary gland cancer can be hard to diagnose, patients should ask to have biopsy samples checked by a pathologist who has experience in diagnosing salivary gland cancer.

Certain factors affect treatment options and prognosis (chance of recovery).

The treatment options and prognosis (chance of recovery) depend on the following: