Reference Index - Disease & Conditions

Back to Health Library

Head and neck glands
Head and neck glands


Salivary gland tumors

Definition:

Salivary gland tumors are abnormal cells growing in the ducts that drain the salivary glands.



Alternative Names:

Tumor - salivary duct



Causes, incidence, and risk factors:

The salivary glands are located around the mouth. They produce saliva, which moistens food to help with chewing and swallowing.

Saliva contains enzymes that begin the digestion process, and help cleanse the mouth by washing away bacteria and food particles. By keeping the mouth moist, saliva helps to keep dentures, retainers, or other orthodontic appliances in place.

There are three pairs of major salivary glands. The largest are the parotid glands, located in each cheek over the jaw in front of the ears. Two submandibular glands are at the back of the mouth on both sides of the jaw. Two sublingual glands are under the floor of the mouth. There are also thousands of minor salivary glands around the rest of the mouth.

All of the salivary glands empty saliva into the mouth through ducts that open at various locations in the mouth.

Salivary gland tumors are rare, especially in children. Swelling of the salivary glands is most commonly due to:

The most common type of salivary gland tumor is a slow-growing noncancerous (benign) tumor of the parotid gland that gradually increases the size of the gland. However, some of these tumors can be cancerous (malignant).

Malignant salivary gland tumors are usually carcinomas .



Symptoms:
  • A firm, usually painless swelling in one of the salivary glands (in front of the ears, under the chin, or on the floor of the mouth); the size of the swelling gradually increases.
  • Difficulty moving one side of the face, known as facial nerve palsy


Signs and tests:

An examination by a health care provider or dentist shows a larger-than-normal salivary gland, usually one of the parotid glands.

Tests may include:

  • X-rays of the salivary gland (called a ptyalogram or sialogram) to look for a tumor
  • CT scan or MRI to confirm that there is a growth, and to see if the cancer has spread to lymph nodes in the neck
  • Salivary gland biopsy or fine needle aspiration to determine whether the tumor is benign or malignant


Treatment:

The recommended treatment is usually surgery to remove the affected salivary gland. If the tumor is benign, no other treatment is usually needed.

Radiation therapy or extensive surgery may be needed if the tumor is cancerous. Chemotherapy is sometimes used in patients who are considered high risk, or when the disease has spread beyond the salivary glands.



Support Groups:



Expectations (prognosis):

Most salivary gland tumors are noncancerous and slow growing. Removing the tumor with surgery usually cures the condition. In rare cases, the tumor is cancerous and further treatment is needed.



Complications:
  • Cancerous tumors may cause further complications, including spread to other organs (metastasis).
  • Rarely, surgery to remove the tumor can injure the nerve that controls movement of the face.


Calling your health care provider:

Call your health care provider if:

  • You have pain when eating or chewing
  • You notice a lump in the mouth, under the jaw, or in the neck that does not go away in 2 - 3 weeks or is getting larger


Prevention:



References:

National Comprehensive Cancer Network Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology: Head and Neck Cancers. National Comprehensive Cancer Network: 2009. Version 1.2009.

Posner M. Head and neck cancer. In: Goldman L, Ausiello D, eds. Cecil Medicine. 23rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier;2007:chap 200.




Review Date: 2/1/2010
Reviewed By: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine; and Seth Schwartz, MD, MPH, Otolaryngologist, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, Washington. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
adam.com


Greater Baltimore Medical Center | 6701 North Charles Street | Baltimore, MD 21204 | (443) 849-2000 | TTY (800) 735-2258
© 2014  GBMC. This website is for informational purposes only and not intended as medical advice or a substitute for a consultation with a professional healthcare provider.