Salivary Gland Disease Tumors Cancer

Salivary gland cancer attacks the glands that make saliva: the parotid glands, submandibular glands, sublingual glands and minor salivary glands. Most cases of salivary gland cancer start in the parotid glands.

Salivary gland cancer is rare, with about two cases per 100,000 people diagnosed each year. It accounts for less than 1 percent of all cancers in the United States, according to the American Cancer Society (2010).

Salivary Gland Cancer Symptoms

A lump or swelling in the mouth, face or neck is one of the most common salivary gland cancer symptoms. The swelling is sometimes painful.

Other salivary gland cancer symptoms include:

  • A new difference in the size and shape of the left and right sides of your face and neck
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Fluid draining from the ear
  • Lasting pain in one spot of your mouth, neck or face
  • Muscle weakness in one side of your face
  • Numbness in part of your face.

Although these may be salivary gland cancer symptoms, they can also be signs of another condition. If you notice any of these signs, see a doctor as soon as possible to determine what is causing your symptoms.

Salivary Gland Cancer Risk Factors

Having a risk factor doesn’t mean you’ll definitely get salivary gland cancer, but it does mean you have a greater risk of developing the disease. The following factors increase the likelihood of salivary gland cancer:

  • Diet high in animal fat and low in vegetables (according to preliminary reports)
  • Exposure to radiation
  • Family history
  • Occupational exposure to certain substances such as silica or nickel alloy dust.

Salivary Gland Cancer Diagnosis and Treatment

A variety of tests are used to diagnose salivary gland cancer, including CT scans, MRIs, PET scans and X-rays. These scans help doctors determine where the cancer is, if it has spread and if salivary gland cancer surgery is necessary. If a tumor is discovered, your doctor will do a biopsy to determine if it is cancerous (malignant) or benign.

If you do have salivary gland cancer, surgery is typically the first treatment option. Salivary gland cancer surgery removes malignant tumors. Facial nerves are usually not affected, but damage to them is a possible complication.

With small, early stage tumors, salivary cancer gland surgery may be the only treatment necessary. Larger, more advanced tumors may require radiation treatment as well. If a tumor is too big for salivary gland cancer surgery, radiation and chemotherapy are used.

If salivary glance cancer is detected early, the prognosis is generally favorable, with a five-year survival rate of 96 percent, according to the American Society of Clinical Oncology (2009).


American Cancer Society. (2010). Salivary gland cancer overview. Retrieved September 29, 2010, from

American Society of Clinical Oncology. (2009). Salivary gland cancer. Retrieved October 4, 2010, from Types/Salivary Gland Cancer.

Harvard Medical School. (2007). Salivary gland disorders. Retrieved September 27, 2010, from