A tumorous growth on the salivary glands is considered to be salivary gland cancer. Located under and behind the jaws, there are three pairs of salivary glands. These pairs include the parotid, sublingual, and submandibular salivary glands. Tumors can grow on any of these glands, but it is most common in the parotid salivary glands. These glands are located close to your ears.
Symptoms of Salivary Gland Cancer
One of the most common symptoms of cancer of the salivary gland is feeling a firm lump near where the glands are located. You might notice this growth near your jaws, ears, neck or mouth. You may also develop numbness or muscle weakness on one side of your face. In some cases, the affected gland can be painful. You may notice that it is difficult to swallow and that you cannot open your mouth widely when you try to yawn. There are other, non-cancerous medical conditions that can cause these symptoms. This is why it is important for you to be seen by an otolaryngologist, or an ear, nose and throat specialist. One of these specialist physicians can diagnose a cancer of the salivary glands or another, non-cancerous condition. These doctors can perform the exam, imaging studies, and biopsies to make the diagnosis.
Risk Factors for Salivary Gland Cancer
Some factors can increase your risk of developing cancer of the salivary glands. Past radiation treatments to your head or neck for a different type of cancer increases your risk for salivary gland cancer. Infection with HIV and the Epstein-Barr virus also increase your chances of developing salivary gland cancer. If you worked around asbestos, lead, rubber, or plastics manufacturing materials, you have an increased risk of this type of cancer. The risk of salivary gland cancer also increases with age.
Treatments for Salivary Gland Cancer
After performing a biopsy to determine which type of salivary gland cancer you have, your physician will work with you to develop a treatment plan. Some types of cancer are more aggressive than others and therefore need a more aggressive form of treatment. Treatments also depend on whether or not the cancer has spread into nearby lymph nodes or other parts of your body.
The most common form of treatment that an otolaryngologist uses to treat salivary gland cancer is surgery. Your doctor may remove just the tumor or the entire salivary gland. If the cancer has spread to other salivary glands, those may also be excised. If the tumors have spread to the lymph nodes in your neck, the surgeon may remove those at the same time. Some patients need to have a reconstructive surgery after the cancer has been removed. Your doctor may order chemotherapy or radiation treatments to get rid of any remaining cancer cells that might have been missed during the surgery.
Early detection and treatment of salivary gland cancer has a good prognosis. Most people will survive cancer caught an early stage. During your recovery, get plenty of rest and eat a healthy diet.