Salivary Gland Disorder

What is Salivary Gland Cancer?

Salivary gland cancer is a rare type of cancer that starts in the salivary glands. The salivary glands are a group of glands that produce saliva. Saliva is a clear liquid that helps keep the mouth moist and aids in digestion. Cancer can develop in any of the salivary glands.

Salivary Gland Cancer Types 

There are several different types of salivary gland cancer. Three common categories of salivary gland tumors are mucoepidermoid carcinoma, adenoid cystic carcinoma, and malignant mixed tumors. There are also other rare salivary gland cancers.

Salivary gland cancer types:

  • Mucoepidermoid carcinoma—This is the most common type of salivary gland tumor. It often originates in the parotid glands. Doctors might also call it parotid gland cancer or a parotid gland tumor.
  • Adenoid cystic carcinoma—This type of cancer begins in the salivary glands found in the neck and head. It can also originate in the tear glands.
  • Malignant mixed tumors—A malignant mixed tumor is a type of salivary gland cancer that contains both epithelial and stromal cells. These tumors usually arise in the minor and major glands.
  • Other rare salivary gland cancers—Certain other salivary gland cancers can also develop in your body. These rare cancers include anaplastic small cell carcinoma, salivary duct carcinoma, and adenocarcinomas.


Salivary gland cancer symptoms are often minor and non-existing. The most common noticeable symptom is consistent pain in and around your salivary glands.

Malignant gland tumor symptoms include:

  • Bleeding
  • Mouth pain
  • Neck pain
  • Face pain
  • Facial movement trouble
  • Difficulty swallowing

Causes & Risk Factors

Specific salivary gland cancer causes are unknown. Certain factors increase your risk of developing salivary gland cancer.

Salivary gland cancer risk factors:

  • Age—If you are 55 and older, your risk is greater.
  • Radiation exposure—If you receive radiation directed at your neck or head for another medical condition, you may be at more risk.
  • Environmental exposure—Individuals who work in certain environments may expose themselves to chemicals that place them at greater risk. Some of these chemicals include industrial chemicals, dust, and pesticides.


Salivary gland cancer diagnosis typically begins with a routine medical exam. Your doctor may also order additional tests to identify issues in your salivary glands. Doctors might perform imaging tests and biopsies.

Diagnostic tests for salivary gland cancer:

  • X-rays—This imaging test can help your doctor identify a mass or tumor in your salivary gland. X-rays produce a black and white image of your body.
  • Computed Tomography (CT) scans—This imaging test combines x-rays and computers to create a more detailed image of your salivary gland. Doctors then analyze these scans to make a more accurate diagnosis.
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scans—These imaging scans uses powerful magnets and radio waves to create a detailed image of your salivary gland. MRI scans show subtle changes in tissue.
  • Tomography scans—These scans can create a cross-sectional image of your salivary gland. Doctors use these detailed scans to analyze your gland more closely.
  • Biopsy—During this procedure, your doctor will remove a small sample of tissue from your salivary gland. They will then send this tissue to a laboratory for analysis. 


There are several options for salivary gland cancer treatment. The most common treatment option is surgery, which can be used to remove the tumor and any affected tissue. Radiation therapy and chemotherapy are other forms of treatment for this condition.

Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy destroys cancer cells or slows their growth with the help of high-energy x-rays or particles. Your doctor may use radiation therapy as the main course of treatment. You might also receive radiation in combination with other treatments, such as surgery.


Chemotherapy uses anti-cancer medications delivered into a vein or by mouth. These medicines enter your bloodstream and can kill cancer cells throughout your body. Chemotherapy is frequently applied to cancers that have spread to other organs. You might also receive chemotherapy if your tumor has not responded to other treatments.


The most common treatment for salivary gland cancer is surgery. If surgeons believe they can fully remove your cancer, they will usually recommend surgery.

Common types of surgery for salivary gland cancer:

  • Sublingual gland surgery—In this surgery, your doctor extracts the tumor from your sublingual glands. They might also remove other nearby tissue, nerves, or bone.
  • Parotid gland surgery—Your doctor removes part or all of the parotid gland. The majority of salivary gland cancer develops in the parotid gland.
  • Minor salivary gland surgery—This surgery involves removing the cancerous tumor from your minor salivary glands. Minor salivary gland cancers develop in your mouth, throat, tongue, or nose.

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