Overview

Saliva is produced by salivary glands to assist with the chewing and digestion of meals. There are three pairs of major salivary glands, including the parotid gland, submandibular gland, and sublingual gland. In addition, the lips, cheeks, mouth, and throat all contain numerous salivary glands. Any of these glands may develop a tumor, but most salivary gland tumors are found in the parotid gland. The parotid glands develop abnormal cell growths known as parotid tumors. Although some tumors can develop into cancer, the majority of parotid tumors are noncancerous (benign). Treatment options for cancerous salivary gland tumors are surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy.

Salivary Gland Cancer Signs and Symptoms

The following are the signs and symptoms of parotid gland tumor:

  • A lump at the affected area (jaw, neck, or mouth)
  • Fullness or swelling in the face
  • Facial numbness
  • Burning or prickling sensations in the face
  • Loss of facial movement or paralysis

Parotid gland tumors are rare and little is known about the triggers that cause the cells to mutate. These tumors begin when the DNA of cells in a salivary gland begin to mutate. The mutation instructs the cells to grow and divide quickly. These abnormal cells continue living when the healthy cells die off. The accumulating cells form a tumor. The tumor is rarely cancerous to begin with; the cancer forms when additional changes occur in the cell’s DNA. The tumor’s cancer cells can then invade and destroy neighboring tissue and spread to other areas of the body. 

Most salivary gland tumors appear in the parotid gland. There are several different types of noncancerous and cancerous tumors. The noncancerous tumors include:

  • Basal cell adenoma
  • Canalicular adenoma
  • Oncocytoma
  • Pleomorphic adenoma
  • Warthin tumor

The types of cancerous tumors include:

  • Acinic cell carcinoma
  • Adenocarcinoma
  • Adenoid cystic carcinoma
  • Clear cell carcinoma
  • Malignant mixed tumor
  • Mucoepidermoid carcinoma
  • Oncocytic carcinoma
  • Polymorphous low-grade adenocarcinoma
  • Salivary duct carcinoma
  • Squamous cell carcinoma

Risk Factors

There are a few factors which may increase your risk of developing these types of tumors. They are:

Older age. Although they can appear in people of all ages, most salivary gland tumors occur in older adults. 

Workplace exposure to certain substances. People who are exposed to certain substances may elevate their risk of developing tumors. Substances associated with various types of salivary gland carcinomas include those found in asbestos mining, rubber manufacturing, and plumbing. 

Radiation exposure. Receiving radiation treatments for cancer in the head and neck may increase your risk of developing salivary gland carcinomas. 

If you have any of the signs or symptoms of salivary gland tumors, make an appointment at the Life Cancer Center at Vejthani Hospital to have a diagnostic examination.