Dr. M.J. Bazos, MD.
Salivary glands produce saliva to keep the mouth
moist and to lubricate the food as it is chewed. Salivary gland tumors may be
benign or malignant (cancerous). The salivary glands are classified into major
and minor glands. The major salivary glands are the parotid gland in front of
your ear and under the skin of your cheek; the submandibular glands under your
jaw bone; and the sublingual salivary glands under you tongue. There are more
than 500 minor salivary glands, and most are in the roof of the mouth. Salivary
gland tumors are rare. They are not contagious, and the cause is not. The only
sure way to diagnose salivary gland tumors is to remove the tumor completely
with a surgical procedure and examine the tissue with a microscope. Salivary
gland tumors can be cured if detected and removed before the cancer has
Living With Your
A lump or mass is the usual
first sign that a tumor is present. Salivary gland cancers tend to spread
locally by invading surrounding tissue. For parotid tumors, local spread may
involve the facial nerve, which crosses through the parotid gland. This can lead
to facial paralysis with facial droop and inability to close the eye on the
affected side. Other salivary cancers spread into the muscles at the floor of
the mouth, base of the skull, and to local lymph glands. This causes facial
pain, ear pain, headache, and swollen lymph glands. In advanced cases, the
cancer can spread to the blood stream and metastasize to the lungs and
tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and a physical examination
give a good idea whether the cancer is malignant. Nevertheless, the treatment of
all major and minor salivary gland tumors is removal of the entire gland and
surrounding involved structures. In the case of the parotid gland, the involved
lobe is removed, but care is taken not to cut the facial nerve. If the cancer
has spread to the local lymph nodes, these nodes are removed. Complications of
surgical treatment include cutting important nerves, such as the facial nerve
and the nerve that goes to the tongue. Radiation therapy can be used to manage
advanced inoperable tumors or tumors that return. Complications are dry, red,
itchy skin; loss of ability to produce saliva, which causes dry mouth, sore
throat, and difficulty swallowing; loss of facial hair growth; and loss of the
sense of taste.
• Seek an experienced surgeon
who specializes in tumors of the head and
• Understand the importance of
nutrition after treatment. Because of pain, loss of saliva, and loss of taste,
you can lose a substantial amount of weight. It is important to take nutritional
supplements and to drink lots of fluids to stay hydrated.
• Remember to keep all appointments
during and after treatment to monitor any side effects or recurrence of the
• Remember the earlier the
cancer is detected, the better is the prognosis. The 10-year survival rate is
90% for salivary gland tumors less than 2 centimeters (0.8 inches) in diameter
and localized to the gland without any spread. It is 25% when the tumor is
larger than 2 centimeters (0.8 inches) and has spread to a lymph
• Do not ignore any
lumps in your mouth, cheek or neck.
Do not ignore any swollen lymph
• Do not forget that 80% of
tumors of the parotid gland are benign, whereas 80% of tumors of the minor
salivary glands are malignant.
to Call Your Doctor
• If you
notice a lump anywhere in your head or
• If you suddenly notice facial
droop with the inability to close your eye on the same side. This can be
paralysis of the facial nerve.
you have facial or ear pain.
• If you
need emotional support.