Salivary gland cancer occurs when malignant (cancerous) cells form in the tissues of the salivary glands. A type of Head and Neck Cancer, salivary gland cancer is very rare.
The salivary glands are located throughout the jaw including under the tongue, above the jawbone and near the ears. Salivary glands make saliva, which is made up of enzymes that help us digest food and release antibodies that help fight infection in the mouth and throat.
While there are hundreds of microscopic salivary glands throughout the mouth, nose and throat, there are three primary salivary glands:
More than half of the salivary gland tumors are benign (not cancerous) and do not metastasize (spread) to other tissues. As with other cancers, however, salivary gland cancer (which can often initially go undetected because early signs are difficult to pinpoint) have specific types. Additionally, cancer cells can spread to surrounding tissues, cartilage, bones or other parts of the body.
Prognosis and treatment options vary depending on each person’s own genetic makeup, location of the cancer cells and the stage of the cancer.
A risk factor is anything that increases your chance of developing a disease. Having risk factors, however, does not necessarily mean you will get cancer, so it’s important to know your own personal risk factors and discuss any concerns with your doctor.
Currently, specific salivary gland cancer risk factors are not known, although research is ongoing, but scientists believe they may be either environmental and/or genetic.
Possible risk factors include:
These involve changing lifestyle behaviors and certain environmental exposures, including: