Salivary gland tumours are rare types of tumours which begin in the salivary glands. They can begin in any of the salivary glands in your mouth, throat or neck.
Salivary glands make saliva, which is responsible for keeping the mouth moist and supporting healthy teeth. There are three pairs of major salivary glands under and behind the jaw – parotid, submandibular and sublingual. There are also many other tiny salivary glands in the lips, inside the cheeks and throughout the mouth and throat.
Salivary gland tumours mostly occur in the parotid gland, accounting for nearly 85% of all salivary gland tumours.
Types of Salivary Gland Tumours
There are many types of salivary gland tumours and they are normally classified based on the type of cells involved in the tumours.
The most common benign salivary gland tumour is the pleomorphic adenoma which is a slow-growing tumour that occurs mostly in the parotid gland. Other types of benign salivary gland tumours include:
- Warthin’s tumour
- Basal cell adenoma
Types of malignant salivary gland tumours include:
- Acinic cell carcinoma
- Adenoid cystic carcinoma
- Clear cell carcinoma
- Malignant mixed tumour
- Mucoepidermoid carcinoma
- Oncocytic carcinoma
- Polymorphous low-grade adenocarcinoma
- Salivary duct carcinoma
- Squamous cell carcinoma
Causes of Salivary Gland Tumours
It is not clear what causes salivary gland tumours, but they are rare, accounting for less than 10% of all head and neck tumours.
What is known is that salivary gland cancer occurs when some cells in a certain salivary gland develop mutations in their DNA. The mutations allow the cells to grow and divide at a fast rate. The mutated cells continue to live when the other cells die. The accumulating cells then form a tumour that can invade nearby tissue. Cancerous cells can break off and spread (metastasize) to other areas of the body.
Symptoms of Salivary Gland Tumours
Symptoms of a salivary gland tumour may include:
- A lump or swelling on or near the jaw or in the neck or mouth
- Numbness in part of your face
- Muscle weakness on one side of your face
- Persistent pain in the area of a salivary gland
- Difficulty swallowing
- Trouble opening your mouth widely
Diagnosis of Salivary Gland Tumours
Procedures and tests used to diagnose salivary gland tumours include:
- A physical exam. Your doctor will feel your jaw, throat and neck for lumps or swelling.
- Imaging tests. MRI and CT help in determining the size and location of the salivary gland tumour.
- Collection of a sample of tissue for testing. A biopsy will help to determine if the tumour is cancerous.
Treatment of Salivary Gland Tumours
Treatment for salivary gland tumours depends on the type, size and stage of the tumour as well as the overall health of the patient and preferences. The treatment usually involves surgery with or sometimes without radiation.
- Salivary gland tumour’s surgery may include:
- Removal of a portion of the affected gland. If the tumour is small in size and located in an area that is easy-to-access, it may be removed by a surgeon along with a small portion of healthy tissue that surrounds it.
- Removal of the entire salivary gland. This happens in cases where the tumour is large or if it extends into nearby structures such as the duct that connects the salivary glands, facial nerves and facial bones and skin – these may also be removed.
- Removal of lymph nodes from the neck. The lymph nodes from the neck are removed in cases where cancer has spread to them. This is done through neck dissection.
- Reconstructive surgery. After surgery to remove the tumour, this is recommended to repair the area. If skin, bone or nerves are removed during surgery, they are usually repaired or replaced with reconstructive surgery. This is done to improve the patient’s ability to chew, swallow, breathe and speak.
- Radiation therapy. Radiation therapy is also used for the treatment of salivary gland cancer if surgery is risky due to the placement of the tumour. It can also be used after surgery to kill any cancer cells that might have remained. It is sometimes combined with radiation depending on type, size and location of the tumour.
- This is a drug treatment that uses chemicals to kill cancer. It is an option for people with advanced salivary gland cancer and it can sometimes be combined with radiation.
At King’s College Hospital Dubai, we focus on offering an exemplary service from initial consultation through to the final diagnosis and treatment and beyond. Our team of expert doctors and nurses are here to offer tailored management and treatment of your condition, and to answer any questions that you might have throughout your time with us. Whatever you need us for, we’re only a phone-call away.
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