Salivary Gland Disease Tumors

A salivary gland tumor is an abnormal proliferation of cells within a salivary gland.

Often, the first sign of a salivary gland tumor is a painless lump or swelling in a salivary gland. The lump may be found in the salivary glands of the cheek, on the tongue, on the top of the mouth or under the chin.

Call your doctor if you notice a lump in these areas that is growing larger, or doesn’t go away in two to three weeks. Difficulty moving one side of your face could also be a sign of a salivary gland tumor.

Salivary gland tumors are rare. According to Harvard Medical School (2007), 95 percent of people who develop salivary gland tumors are adults, usually between ages 30 and 50. Finding a salivary gland tumor doesn’t mean you have salivary gland cancer. Between 75 to 80 percent of salivary gland tumors are benign, according to the Merck Manuals Online Medical Library (2008).

There are, however, significant health conditions which can cause swelling in the salivary glands, other than a salivary gland cancer or a benign salivary gland tumor. These include:

  • Abdominal surgery
  • Cirrhosis
  • Infections, including salivary gland infections
  • Salivary stones
  • Sjogren’s syndrome.

Parotid Gland Tumors

According to the Merck Manuals Online Medical Library (2008), about 85 percent of the time, a salivary gland tumor is a parotid gland tumor, found in the parotid glands, the largest of the salivary glands.

The most common type of benign salivary gland tumor, or parotid gland tumor, is called a pleomorphic adenoma. While it is possible for such tumors to become malignant, this usually only happens after the salivary gland tumor has been noticeable for 15 to 20 years.

Diagnosing and Treating a Salivary Gland Tumor

If your healthcare provider determines that a swollen salivary gland might be the result of a salivary gland tumor, she might order the following tests:

  • CT scans or MRIs to determine the size of the tumor
  • Salivary gland biopsy to see if your salivary gland tumor is benign or if you have salivary gland cancer
  • X-rays of the salivary gland to see if you have a salivary gland tumor.

While doctors use a variety of techniques to see if you have a parotid gland tumor, there is usually only one treatment option: surgery. Unless the tumor is malignant and you have salivary gland cancer, removal of the tumor typically is curative.

Risk Factors and Prognosis for a Salivary Gland Tumor

Two possible risk factors for developing a salivary gland tumor are exposure to radiation and smoking. After the tumor is removed, the outlook for patients is very good, although a benign parotid gland tumor may return as many as 15 years after the first surgery.


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