Salivary gland tumors are abnormal cells growing in the ducts that drain the salivary glands.
Tumor - salivary duct
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.
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:
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.
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.
Call your health care provider if:
National Comprehensive Cancer Network Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology: Head and Neck Cancers. Version 1. 2009. National Comprehensive Cancer Network; 2009.
Posner M. Head and neck cancer. In: Goldman L, Ausiello D, eds. Cecil Medicine. 23rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007:chap 200.