Get the Facts About Salivary Gland Tumors

Salivary gland cancers originate in the salivary glands. These glands are present in three major pairs and they are found below the jaw. There are smaller ones inside the cheeks and lips, in the throat and in the mouth. When tumors develop in these glands, they are usually in the parotid gland. In fact, about 85 percent of these tumors are found in this gland and approximately 25 percent of tumors in the parotid are determined to be cancerous. However, overall, tumors in the salivary gland are rare.


It is not fully understood what causes salivary gland tumors. However, it is known that when certain cells in these glands experience a DNA mutation that a tumor develops. The mutations make it possible for the cells to divide and grow rapidly. Normal cells would die, but the mutated ones continue living. They accumulate into a tumor and nearby tissues are invaded.

There are three known risk factors associated with these tumors. Older adults are most often affected, but they can develop at any age. Those who have been exposed to radiation either with medical treatments or in the environment are at a higher risk. People working in certain environments might also be at a higher risk, such as those working in asbestos mining, rubber manufacturing, and plumbing.


When symptoms occur, they are generally isolated to the area where the tumor is present. They may include:

  • Swelling or a lump close to the site of the tumor
  • On one side of the face, muscle weakness is possible
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Numbness of the face near the area of the tumor
  • The affected salivary gland can be painful
  • Difficulty opening the mouth wide for eating or examination

The symptoms can occur with tumors that are both cancerous and noncancerous. The severity depends on several factors, such as the size of the tumor and the patient’s overall health status.

Treatment Options

After a thorough examination process, determining if the tumor is cancerous and then staging a cancerous one, a treatment regimen is determined. Chemotherapy may be used for more advanced forms of salivary gland cancer. However, it is not considered to be a standard treatment.

Radiation therapy works to kill cancer cells using various high-powered energy beams. Following surgery to remove a tumor, this may be used to kill any cancer cells that may still be present. It may also be used instead of surgery when a tumor is too risky to remove.

Surgery is the most common treatment method. Smaller tumors may be removed alone or with the affected salivary gland. If the cancer has spread, nearby lymph nodes may need to be removed. In the most serious of tumor removals, reconstructive surgery may be needed.

Salivary gland tumors are not a health issue most people hear about unless they have experience with them. However, basic knowledge is important to protect a person’s health. Like all tumors, it is imperative to have them evaluated promptly. If it is determined that the tumor is cancerous, patients and their doctors will work together to build a treatment plan.

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