What is salivary gland cancer?

Salivary gland cancer is a rare form of cancer that begins in the salivary glands of the body. Saliva is chiefly part of the digestive system as it aids in the breakdown of food in the mouth. In addition to many minor glands located throughout the mouth, there are three pairs of major salivary glands in the neck, mouth, and throat: the parotid (in front of the ear), the sublingual (underneath the jawbone), and the submandibular (in the back of the throat). The most common place where this cancer occurs is in the parotid glands (85% of cases), however salivary gland cancer can form in any tissues of the salivary glands. Tumors are formed when the typical cells become mutated and don’t die naturally as the normal cells would, creating an accumulation of cells. These cells can begin to spread into other parts of the body, or Metastasize.

The Cancer can be broken into three distinct Grades, each with its own classification of the speed at which the cancer grows:

  • Grade One:

    Also called low grade - The cells grow slowly and the outlook is good

  • Grade Two:

    Referred to as intermediate grade, the prognosis varies between grade one and three in terms of severity.

  • Grade Three:

    This cancer is high grade, meaning that the tumor cells vary greatly from normal cells and spread quickly. The prognosis for this grade is not usually as good as for lower grades.

The main treatment for this cancer is surgery, and also common is the use of radiation therapy and chemotherapy. The most common symptom for this cancer is a lump in the throat, as well as dryness in the mouth and difficulty swallowing. Sometimes facial numbness and even muscle weakness can be warning signs of salivary cancer.

Salivary Gland Cancer
The work has just begun!

There is currently no ribbon for salivary gland cancer, as less than 1% of all cancers attack the salivary glands. There is no known cause for the cancer, although cell phone use, tobacco use, age, and forms of radiation are all suspected to be involved in the forming of tumors in the salivary glands. Because the cause isn’t completely known, the risks are not widely recognized and the symptoms often go unnoticed. We strive to help break the silence about the potential danger that is affecting thousands of people and increase the information available to the everyday person who may not even know that salivary cancer exists.