There are three pairs of major salivary glands — parotid, sublingual and submandibular. Each gland has its own tube (duct) leading from the gland to the mouth.
Salivary gland tumors are growths of abnormal cells (tumors) that begin in the salivary glands. Salivary gland tumors are rare.
Salivary glands make saliva, which aids in digestion, keeps your mouth moist and supports healthy teeth. You have three pairs of major salivary glands under and behind your jaw — parotid, sublingual and submandibular. Many other tiny salivary glands are in your lips, inside your cheeks, and throughout your mouth and throat.
Salivary gland tumors can begin in any of your salivary glands. Most are noncancerous (benign), but sometimes they can be cancerous. Most salivary gland tumors occur in the parotid glands.
Treatment for salivary gland tumors is usually with surgery to remove the tumor. People with salivary gland cancers may need additional treatments.
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Signs and symptoms of a salivary gland tumor may include:
- A lump or swelling on or near your jaw or in your 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
When to see a doctor
Make an appointment with your doctor if you have any persistent signs or symptoms that worry you.
Having a lump or an area of swelling near your salivary gland is the most common sign of a salivary gland tumor, but it doesn't mean you have cancer. Most salivary gland tumors are noncancerous (benign). Many other noncancerous conditions may lead to a swollen salivary gland, including an infection or a stone in a salivary gland duct.
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Salivary gland tumors are rare. Their cause isn't clear.
Salivary gland tumors begin when some cells in a salivary gland develop changes (mutations) in their DNA. A cell's DNA contains the instructions that tell a cell what to do.
The changes tell the cells to grow and divide rapidly. The abnormal cells go on living when healthy cells would die. The accumulating cells form a tumor.
If additional changes happen in the DNA, the abnormal cells may become cancerous. Cancer cells can invade and destroy nearby tissue. They can also break away from the tumor and spread (metastasize) to distant areas of the body.
Types of salivary gland tumors
Many different types of salivary gland tumors exist. Doctors classify salivary gland tumors based on the type of cells involved in the tumors. Knowing the type of salivary gland tumor you have helps your doctor determine which treatment options are best for you.
Types of noncancerous (benign) salivary gland tumors include:
- Pleomorphic adenoma
- Basal cell adenoma
- Canalicular adenoma
- Warthin tumor
Types of cancerous (malignant) salivary gland tumors include:
- Acinic cell carcinoma
- Adenoid cystic carcinoma
- Clear cell carcinoma
- Malignant mixed tumor
- Mucoepidermoid carcinoma
- Oncocytic carcinoma
- Polymorphous low-grade adenocarcinoma
- Salivary duct carcinoma
- Squamous cell carcinoma
Factors that may increase your risk of salivary gland tumors include:
- Older age. Though salivary gland tumors can occur at any age, they most commonly occur in older adults.
- Radiation exposure. Radiation treatments for cancer, such as radiation used to treat head and neck cancers, may increase the risk of salivary gland tumors.
- Workplace exposure to certain substances. People who work with certain substances may have an increased risk of salivary gland tumors. Jobs associated with salivary gland tumors include those involved in rubber manufacturing, asbestos mining and plumbing.