Salivary gland cancer may occur in the parotid glands, submandibular glands, sublingual glands or even the minor salivary glands located throughout the mouth and throat. Most masses within the minor salivary glands and sublingual glands are cancer, although this is not always true. Cancers develop as masses which may be painful or painless. Cancers may be associated with lymphadenopathy in the neck, indicating spread to adjacent regions. When a cancer occurs in the parotid gland it may affect the facial nerve, causing weakness or asymmetry in the facial nerve.
Salivary gland cancers include, in order of frequency, mucoepidermoid cancer, adenoid cystic cancer, and acinic cell cance. Other, less common types of cancer, are squamous cell cancer, adenocarcinoma, and salivary duct carcinoma.
If a mass is noted that s suspected of being cancer, a surgeon may perform a fine needle aspiration of the tissue. This involves placing a small needle into the tissue and removing some cells which are examined under a microscope to assist in making a diagnosis. This is a minimally invasive procedure which is performed in the office with only local anesthesia. Tests, such as a CT or MRI may help determine the extent of cancer.
Treatment of salivary gland cancer is removal of the affected gland. This may involve a parotidectomy or submandibular gland resection. If the disease has spread to the neck a neck dissection may be indicated.
After removal the cancer is examined under the microscope. Salivary gland cancers are grouped into low-grade and high-grade cancers. For low stage cancers removal may be sufficient, whereas for high grade radiation therapy or chemotherapy may be indicated.
If you have a salivary gland cancer, please contact Dr. William Armstrong or Dr. Sunil Verma for evaluation.