Salivary Gland Cancer

What is salivary gland cancer?

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:

  • Parotid glands: These are the largest salivary glands and are found in front of and just below each ear. Most major salivary gland tumors begin in this gland.
  • Sublingual glands: These glands are found under the tongue in the floor of the mouth.
  • Submandibular glands: These glands are found below the jawbone.

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.

What increases the risk of salivary gland cancer?

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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:

  • Older age.
  • Treatment with radiation therapy to the head and neck.
  • Being exposed to certain substances at work.

Patient Comments

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Salivary Gland Cancer - Symptoms Question: What symptoms did you experience with your salivary gland cancer?
Salivary Gland Cancer - Risks Question: Please discuss any risk factors that may have contributed to your salivary gland cancer.
Salivary Gland Cancer - Diagnosis Question: What tests and exams did you experience that led to a diagnosis of salivary gland cancer?
Salivary Gland Cancer - Treatment Question: What kinds of treatment, surgery, or therapy did you receive for salivary gland cancer?
Neck pain

Salivary Gland Cancer Is a Type of Head and Neck Cancer

Head and Neck Cancer Facts

  • Cancers of the head and neck are identified by the area in which they begin: the oral cavity, salivary glands, paranasal sinuses and nasal cavity, pharynx, larynx (voicebox), and lymph nodes in the neck. Cancers of the brain, eye, thyroid gland, scalp, skin, muscles, and bones of the head and neck are not usually grouped with cancers of the head and neck.
  • Common symptoms of several head and neck cancer sites include a lump or sore that does not heal, a sore throat that does not go away, difficulty swallowing, and a change or hoarseness in the voice. Symptoms may differ according to the part of the head or neck that is cancerous.

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