Salivary gland cancer symptoms occur when abnormal cells grow within the ducts that help drain the salivary gland. Let us go into the details of causes and symptoms of salivary gland cancer in the following paragraphs.
The salivary glands are important for production of saliva or spit in the mouth. This saliva helps keep the mouth moist as well as contains many enzymes that break down food when chewing. Saliva also helps in sliding the food down the gullet with ease into the stomach.
The salivary gland is classified into major and minor glands. The parotid (present on the side of the mouth), submandibular (beneath the jawbone) and sublingual (under the tongue) glands are called the major salivary glands. The mucus secreting glands of the palate, nasal and oral cavity are called the minor salivary glands. Salivary gland cancer is very rare and can occur at any age, more commonly in people who are over the age of 50 years. There are different types of salivary gland cancers, depending on the type of cells that become cancerous. Also, the symptoms are mostly silent and depend on the type of gland affected.
What Causes Salivary Gland Cancer?
The causes of salivary gland cancer are not known. It is suspected to be genetic or hereditary in nature. Benign salivary gland tumors are more common than malignant tumors. Many people often confuse salivary gland infection with cancer symptoms. Let us have a look at the types, followed by the symptoms of salivary gland cancer.
Types of Salivary Gland Cancer
As mentioned earlier, there are different types of salivary gland cancers depending on the type of cells involved. These include –
- Adenoid cystic carcinoma
- Acinic cell carcinoma
- Clear cell carcinoma
- Mucoepidermoid carcinoma
- Malignant mixed tumor
- Oncocytic carcinoma
- Polymorphous low-grade adenocarcinoma
- Squamous cell carcinoma
- Salivary duct carcinoma
Symptoms of Salivary Gland Cancer
Salivary gland cancer generally remains latent during the initial stages. Thus, one never comes to know that the cancer exists early on. However, one should seek medical help, if they observe the following salivary gland symptoms –
- Swelling or lump on or near the jaw, neck or mouth
- Numbness in some part of the face
- Persistent pain in and around salivary gland
- Muscle weakness on one side of the face
- Problems while swallowing
- Difficulty in opening the mouth wide
- Facial palsy
As you can see, most of the symptoms are similar to blocked salivary gland disorder. Thus, only diagnostic tests will help determine if one is suffering from cancer or some other salivary gland disorder.
Diagnosis of Salivary Gland Cancer
If one experiences any of the above symptoms of salivary gland cancer persistently, it will be wise to speak to a doctor. The doctor will conduct a physical examination and ask a patient to take some necessary blood tests. The common tests that help diagnose salivary gland cancer include a CT (X-ray computed tomography) scan, MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan and a biopsy of the lump formed under the mouth or near the neck. Once the tests confirm cancer, the doctor will stage and grade the cancer.
Staging and Grading of Salivary Gland Cancer
The doctor will stage the cancer to help describe its size and spread to surrounding tissues. This helps in deciding the appropriate treatment for the cancer. The most common staging system used is the TNM system, where T stands for tumor size, N refers to lymph nodes and M means metastases (spread to other organs).
Grading of the salivary gland cancer is done according to the appearance of the cancer cells under the microscope. This gives an idea to the doctor, about the rate of spread of the cancer. A low-grade cancer means that the cancer cells are slow to develop and high-grade tumors indicate that the cancer is spreading very fast.
Treatment for Salivary Gland Cancer
Once the symptoms of salivary gland cancer are confirmed, the doctor may suggest treatments based on the location, type of cancer, growth rate of cancer and health of the patient. Surgery is advised to remove the salivary gland and get rid of the cancerous cells. Make sure one speaks in detail about the surgery with the doctor. This is because it may lead to a few possible side effects along with changes in appearance. Radiotherapy and chemotherapy may be advised if the salivary gland cannot be removed.
It is important to note the salivary gland cancer symptoms and speak to a doctor about it. As this cancer is very rare, not many people are aware of the existence of the salivary gland cancer as well as its symptoms. Early intervention will help curb the spread and avoid further complications. Your doctor is the best person to help you understand and know more about the condition as well as its treatment.