The salivary glands of a human being are responsible for producing saliva, which is an enzyme containing fluid that breaks down the food and helps digestion. There are three major salivary glands under and behind your jaw- Parotid glands, Submandibular glands and Sublingual glands. Other small salivary glands are in your lips, inside your cheeks, and throughout your mouth and throat.
Salivary gland cancer commonly occurs in the parotid gland, but can be found in submandibular and sublingual glands. More than half of all salivary gland tumors are non-cancerous and do not spread to other tissues.
Symptoms related to salivary gland cancer
Initially, salivary gland cancer may not cause any signs or symptoms. Problem may be found during a routine dental check-up or physical examination. Consult a doctor if you have any of the following:
Tests and diagnosis for salivary gland cancer
- A painless lump on the face, neck, or mouth
- Numbness in part of your face
- Muscle weakness on one side of your face
- Continuous pain in the area of a salivary gland
- Difficulty swallowing
- Trouble opening your mouth widely
- A difference between the size and/or shape of the left and right sides of the face or neck
The following procedures may be used to identify salivary gland cancer:
Available treatments for salivary gland cancer
- Physical exam and medical history: Your doctor will do a full body examination to check general signs of health. The head, neck, mouth, and throat will be checked for any lumps or anything unusual. Furthermore, your medical history alongside health habits and past illnesses and treatments will also be taken into account.
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): The procedure involves a magnet, radio waves and a computer to make a series of pictures of areas inside the body.
- CAT scan (CT scan): The procedure involves X-Rays that make a series of detailed pictures of areas inside the body, taken from different angles.
- Positron emission tomography (PET) scan: The procedure involves a small amount of radioactive glucose to track cancerous tumor cells in the body.
- Endoscopy: This procedure involves inserting an endoscope into the mouth to look at the mouth, throat, and larynx for any irregularity
- Biopsy: It is a process of removal of cells or tissues so they can be viewed under a microscope to check for signs of cancer.
Treatment for salivary gland cancer
depends on the size of salivary gland cancer, your overall health and preferences. It generally involves surgery, with or without radiation therapy. Surgery for salivary gland cancer may include:
- Removing a part of the affected salivary gland: If the cancer is small and easily accessed, your surgeon may remove the tumor and a small part of healthy tissue that surrounds it.
- Completely removing the salivary gland: If you have a larger tumor, your doctor may suggest removing the entire salivary gland. If your cancer has spread to the surrounding areas, those affected may also be removed.
- Removal of lymph nodes in your neck: Your surgeon may remove most of the lymph nodes in your neck if the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes.
- Reconstructive surgery: If bone, skin or nerves are removed during your surgery, these may need to be repaired or replaced with reconstructive surgery.
Radiation therapy uses high-powered energy beams, such as X-rays, to execute cancer cells. While the therapy is in progress, you lie on a table and a machine moves around you, signaling X-rays at specific points on your body. Radiation therapy may also be used to destroy cancer cells that might remain post surgery.
Chemotherapy is an option for patients suffering from advanced salivary gland cancer that has spread to distant areas of their bodies. This therapy is a drug
treatment that uses chemicals to kill cancer cells.
After you have been treated for salivary gland cancer, it is important to get support. Connect with other cancer survivors and ask friends and family to be your support system.