The salivary glands create saliva, the clear fluid in the mouth that contains enzymes which assist in swallowing, digesting food, and protecting against infections in the mouth or throat. Salivary gland cancer is a very rare form of the disease that develops when malignant cells form in the tissue of the salivary glands. It is estimated that this form of the disease is responsible for less than 1% of the cancers diagnosed in the United States.
Salivary Gland Cancer Signs & Symptoms
Salivary gland cancer may not demonstrate many symptoms. A dentist may detect an abnormal mass during a routine checkup. The most common symptoms include:
- A painless lump in the ear, cheek, jaw, lip, or elsewhere inside the mouth
- Clear fluid draining out of the ear
- Trouble swallowing or opening the mouth all the way
- Numbness or weakness in the face
- Facial pain that does not go away
Salivary Gland Cancer Diagnosis
Doctors rely on a number of scans to diagnose salivary gland cancer, including:
- CT or CAT scans: A test that takes pictures of the body’s internal organs from a number of different angles and transfers them to an x-ray machine.
- MRI (magnetic resonance imaging): A test that uses magnets, radio waves, and a computer to make a number of pictures of the body’s internal organs.
- PET scan: In this test, a small amount of radioactive glucose is injected into the body to detect any abnormalities.
- Ultrasound: In an ultrasound, high-energy sound waves are bounced off internal tissues and make a picture called a sonogram.
- Endoscopy: Doctors examine the mass with an endoscope, an instrument designed to inspect the inside of a hollow organ or body cavity. The endoscope is inserted directly into the affected area and is able to examine the mass closely.
Salivary Gland Cancer Treatment
The standard methods of treatment—surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation—are utilized for treating salivary gland cancer, with surgery found to be the most effective. The form of treatment depends on the size, location, and stage of the cancer.
Salivary Gland Cancer Outlook
A patient’s prognosis depends on the size, location, and stage of the mass. Patients with stage I cancer can anticipate a 5-year survival rate of 91%; stage II—75%; stage III—65%; stage IV—39%.