All salivary gland tumors warrant evaluation, and many treatments are available.
Salivary gland tumors develop within the salivary glands. Below the jaw, there are three main pairs of these glands. Their primary purpose is to produce saliva to aid in the digestive process. Saliva works to lubricate the passageway that brings food down into the stomach. It also aids in carbohydrate breakdown. In addition to the main glands, there are also smaller ones in the mouth and throat.
- In most cases, tumors affecting the glands start in the parotid gland.
- Not all of these tumors are cancerous.
Exactly how these tumors develop remains unknown. However, experts know that a DNA mutation of the cells within the glands can cause them to grow uncontrollably, resulting in a tumor. Under normal circumstances, cells develop and die at a rate that prevents accumulation, but the mutated ones remain alive as new ones are produced. Once the tumor starts, it can invade nearby tissues.
In addition, there are certain risk factors that might increase a patient’s chances of developing this type of tumor. While these tumors are possible at any age, older people are at a higher risk. Radiation exposure and working in certain environments, such as rubber manufacturing, asbestos mining, and plumbing, can also increase the risk.
The symptoms are generally localized to where the tumor is. They are possible whether the tumor is malignant or benign. The size of the tumor may impact symptom severity. These may include:
- A lump or swelling
- Difficulty swallowing
- Muscle weakness
- Difficulty eating or opening the mouth wide
The first step is performing a complete examination to explore the tumor and the patient’s general health. If the tumor is determined to be malignant, the doctor will perform the necessary tests to see what stage it is at.
Radiation is a common treatment method. It works to kill cancer cells via the use of high beams of energy. It may be used alone or after surgery. Following a surgery, it is used to kill off any lingering cancer cells that might have been left behind.
Surgery is also frequently used for these tumors. If the tumor is small, it may be removed alone, but if the salivary gland was largely impacted, doctors might have to remove the entire gland. Further surgery might be needed if the cancer spread. For example, if a lymph node is determined cancerous, surgical removal might be warranted. In the most serious of cases, patients might also need to undergo reconstructive surgery.
Chemotherapy is not commonly used for cancerous salivary gland tumors. However, it might be considered in more advanced cases. Prior to administration, doctors will evaluate the patient’s cancer and total health to determine which drug might be the most effective.