Salivary Gland Cancer (cont.)
What are symptoms and signs of salivary gland cancer?
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:
- A lump (usually painless) in the area of the ear, cheek, jaw, lip, or inside the mouth.
- Fluid draining from the ear.
- Trouble swallowing or opening the mouth widely.
- Numbness or weakness in the face.
- Pain in the face that does not go away.
What exams and tests are used to detect and diagnose salivary gland cancer?
The following procedures may be used:
- Physical exam and history: An exam of the body to check general signs of health. The head, neck, mouth, and throat will be checked for signs of disease, such as lumps or anything else that seems unusual. A history of the patient's health habits and past illnesses and treatments will also be taken.
- MRI (magnetic resonance imaging): A procedure that uses a magnet, radio waves, and a computer to make a series of detailed pictures of areas inside the body. This procedure is also called nuclear magnetic resonance imaging (NMRI).
- CT scan (CAT scan): A procedure that makes a series of detailed pictures of areas inside the body, taken from different angles. The pictures are made by a computer linked to an x-ray machine. A dye may be injected into a vein or swallowed to help the organs or tissues show up more clearly. This procedure is also called computed tomography, computerized tomography, or computerized axial tomography.
- PET scan (positron emission tomography scan): A procedure to find malignant tumor cells in the body. A small amount of radioactive glucose (sugar) is injected into a vein. The PET scanner rotates around the body and makes a picture of where glucose is being used in the body. Malignant tumor cells show up brighter in the picture because they are more active and take up more glucose than normal cells do.
- Ultrasound exam: A procedure in which high-energy sound waves (ultrasound) are bounced off internal tissues or organs and make echoes. The echoes form a picture of body tissues called a sonogram. The picture can be printed to be looked at later.
- Endoscopy: A procedure to look at organs and tissues inside the body to check for abnormal areas. For salivary gland cancer, an endoscope is inserted into the mouth to look at the mouth, throat, and larynx. An endoscope is a thin, tube-like instrument with a light and a lens for viewing.
- Fine needle aspiration (FNA) biopsy: The removal of tissue or fluid using a thin needle. A pathologist views the tissue or fluid under a microscope to look for cancer cells.
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.
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