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Salivary gland cancer is a type of head and neck cancer that involves in the abnormal growth of cancer in the salivary glands. It is not as common as the other types of cancers. There are three major salivary glands in the mouth. They are parotid, sublingual and submandibular. Cancer usually develops in the parotid gland which is present in front of the ear.

Types of Salivary Gland Cancers

Salivary gland is made up of different types of cells. Acinic cells help in releasing saliva, mucoepidermoid cells line the salivary gland.

  • Acinic cell carcinoma is a slow growing cell. This cancer develops in the acinar cells that help in producing saliva in the mouth. This cancer is common in women when compared to men.
  • Mucoepidermoid Canceris a cancer that is develops in the cells that line the salivary glands. This cancer develops small cysts filled with mucus.
  • Adenoid cystic cancer constitutes about 15% of the salivary gland cancers. It is the most common type of cancer that develops in the minor salivary glands.
  • Adenocarcinoma is a rare type of salivary gland cancer. It develops in the epithelial cells that line the body.
  • Malignant mixed cancer is a benign tumour that develops into a malignant tumour. It is a rare type of cancer among the salivary gland cancers.
  • Low grade polymorphous canceris a slow growing cancer. Though it is rare, it is the second common cancer of the minor salivary glands. It is a common type of cancer in people above the age of 70 years. It is usually curable.
  • Squamous cell carcinoma is a cancer that develops in older men. People who are exposed to radiation beams during radiation therapy have a risk of developing squamous cell carcinoma.

Signs and Symptoms

People suffering from salivary gland cancer may experience the following symptoms.

  • A lump on the face, neck or mouth
  • Pain or inflammation in the face, neck, jawbone or chin
  • Numbness in the face
  • Inability to move some facial muscles
  • Persistent pain in the salivary gland
  • Difficulty in swallowing
  • Pain experienced while opening the mouth
  • Facial muscle weakness

Causes and Risk factors

Salivary gland cancer is caused when a few cells in the salivary gland develop mutations in the DNA. These mutated cells divide and grow rapidly which lead to the formation of a tumour. The cancerous cells damage the organ and invade by spreading the disease to the other parts of the body. The exact cause of the salivary gland cancer is unknown, however, a few risk factors are mentioned which increase the risk of developing the disease.

  • A family history of cancer may increase the risk of developing salivary gland cancer. An inherited gene in the body may increase the probability of developing the disease in a person’s lifetime.
  • Age is one of the most significant causes of developing the disease. As a person ages, the body and the immune cells become weak and so the body may be affected with various diseases, even salivary gland cancer. Salivary gland cancer usually develops in people above the age of 55 years.
  • People exposed to radiation beams used to treat head and neck cancer are at an increased risk of developing the disease.
  • Use of tobacco and cigarette smoking increases the risk of developing salivary gland cancer. Smokers are at a higher risk of developing this cancer when compared to non-smokers.

Diagnosis

  • Physical examinationis performed by the doctor to check for any changes in the neck. The doctor feels the patient’s jaws, neck and throat for the presence of lumps.
  • Biopsyis another method performed to confirm the test results. It is a sample of the tissue taken from the body to examine it more closely. A doctor usually recommends for biopsy when a part of the body tissue seems abnormal. The abnormality in a particular area may be noticed in the imaging techniques or during a physical examination.
  • Ultrasound scan which is also referred to as sonogram, is a diagnostic device which uses high-frequency sound waves to create an image of the inside of the body. This is performed if the doctor suspects any changes or a presence of lump in the neck. CT scan or PET scan is also taken to check for the spread of disease in the stomach. It takes radiographic pictures of the inside of the salivary gland.
  • Magnetic Imaging Resonance (MRI) is a test that uses magnetic field and pulses of radio wave energy to create pictures of organs inside the body. MRI is also helps in identifying various other problems that cannot be detected in other imaging techniques.
  • CT scan is performed to get a 3D picture of the inside of the salivary gland using x-rays. A CT scan is also used to measure the size of the tumour.
  • Endoscopyuses a flexible, thin, long tube with a camera at one end called the endoscope to check for changes inside the body. The tube is inserted through the mouth.
  • Panoramic radiograph is a rotating or a panoramic view of the upper and lower jaw bones to detect the presence of cancer.

Treatment

The following are the main treatments of breast cancer.

Surgery is performed to either remove a part of the tissues from the salivary gland or the entire organ.

  • Parotidectomy is the removal of the parotid gland.
  • Endoscopic surgery is performed to remove the cancerous cells with the help of an endoscope. It does not damage the healthy cells and only removes the cancer causing cells from the body.
  • Neck dissection helps in removing the lymph nodes from the neck.
  • Reconstructive surgery is performed to replace the tissues which were removed during dissection to eliminate cancer from the body.

Chemotherapy is a drug used to kill the cancer causing cells. It is either given orally or intravenously. It is usually used after a surgery to remove the presence of any left-over cancerous cells in the body. Chemotherapy can also be given to treat the cancers that spread to various other parts of the body.

 

Radiation therapy is usually given along with chemotherapy before a surgery. This therapy also kills the remains of any cancerous cells in the body.

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