Saliva contains enzymes that begin the process of digesting food. It also contains antibodies and other substances that help prevent mouth and throat infections.
The parotid glands, the largest salivary glands, are just in front of the ears. About 70% of salivary gland tumors begin here. Most of these tumors are benign (not cancer), but most malignant salivary gland tumors start in the parotid gland.
The submandibular glands are smaller and are located under the chin. They discharge saliva under the tongue. About half of these tumors are cancer.
The sublingual glands, the smallest salivary glands, are located under the floor of the mouth and on either side of the tongue. Tumors that begin in these glands are rare.
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 almost never life-threatening.
There are many types of salivary gland tumors with names such as adenomas, oncocytomas, Warthin tumors, and benign mixed tumors (also known as pleomorphic adenomas).
Benign tumors almost always heal with surgery. Very rarely, they can develop into cancer if left untreated for a long time or if they are not completely removed and returned. Exactly how benign tumors turn into cancer is not clear.
The probability of pleomorphic adenomas becoming cancerous is 1-3%.
Maling Salivary Gland Tumors
There are many types of salivary gland cancer. Normal salivary glands are made up of many different types of 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.
-Adenoid cystic carcinoma
-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 gives a rough idea of how fast it will grow and spread.
Grade 1 cancers (also called low-grade or well-differentiated) look a lot like normal salivary gland cells. They grow slowly and have a good outcome (prognosis).
Grade 2 cancers (also called intermediate or moderately differentiated) have an appearance and outlook between grade 1 and grade 3 cancers. Grade 3 cancers (also called highly graded or poorly differentiated) look very different from normal cells and often grow and/or spread rapidly. The outlook for these cancers is usually not as good as for low-grade cancers.
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.
-Exposure to certain radioactive substances in the workplace can also increase the risk of salivary gland cancer.
-Tobacco and alcohol use
-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
Surgery is usually the main treatment for salivary gland cancers. If your doctor believes you can remove it completely, your cancer will likely be treated with surgery. (That is, if the cancer is resectable.) Whether the cancer is resectable depends largely on how far it has extended into nearby structures, but also on the skill and experience of the surgeon.
In most cases, the 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 outer edges (edge) of the removed tumor. If the cancer is high grade (more likely to grow and spread more quickly) or if it has spread to the lymph nodes, the T lymph nodes on the same side of the neck can be removed in a procedure called a neck dissection (explained below).