EAR, NOSE & THROAT
Tumors of the Salivary Glands
The parotid salivary glands are the largest of all three glands. These glands sit inside both cheeks. The submandibular glands are found on each side of the jaw right below the jawbone. The sublingual glands rest at the bottom of the mouth, below the tongue. Many other little glands are located all over your mouth. These other glands are called minor salivary glands and do not have a specific name. Tumors in the salivary glands are extremely rare. They are divided into three categories: benign neoplasms, tumor-like conditions, and malignant neoplasms. Neoplasm is the scientific name for a tumor.
Most of the tumors that arise are found in the parotid salivary glands. You probably think the rest of the tumors are located in either the submandibular or sublingual salivary glands. Surprisingly, this is not true, nearly 22% of the tumors are found in the minor salivary glands. Only about 8% are found in the submandibular glands, and nearly none originates in the sublingual salivary glands. Nearly 3/4 of the tumors in the parathyroid glands are benign. Only half of the tumors in the submandibular salivary glands are benign, and only about 20% of minor salivary tumors are benign.
Pleomorphic adenomas are the most common benign tumor of the salivary glands. Pleomorphic adenomas are not just one tumor but a cluster of tumors. Warthin’s tumors are another benign tumor that mainly affects the parotid glands and is more commonly found in men. Other non-cancerous growths include salivary gland stones as well as salivary gland inflammation. There are several different types of malignant salivary tumors. Some of them are an adenocystic carcinoma, adenocarcinoma, and mucoepidermoid carcinoma. Salivary gland cancer is categorized based on the cells that form cancer. The mouth is made up of so many different cells that a wide range of tumors can form. You can also have a malignant tumor that is a mix of different cells.
Malignant salivary gland tumors are sometimes difficult to detect. Most of the malignant tumors are found in the minor salivary glands. These glands are typically so small that it is very difficult to diagnose. There are so many minor salivary glands that it is hard to count. The malignant tumors that may form in the parotid salivary glands are easier to diagnose and treat. Viruses, radiation, contact with certain chemicals and age all serve as risk factors for salivary cancer.
Symptoms of Salivary Gland Cancer
Symptoms of salivary gland cancer may begin with a lump or swelling in the mouth, cheek, or neck. You may even feel it in your jaw. There are many nerves in your face, and some of these nerves are embedded in the glands. Tumors, therefore, may cause facial numbness or pain. You can also feel a weakness in your face. Maybe parts of the face begin to droop. Trouble swallowing is another symptom. Along with that, you may have pain when opening your mouth wide or it may be difficult for you to open your mouth wide. A doctor should examine any symptoms, especially the feeling or a lump or swelling. More often than not, you probably have a benign tumor, but it should still be examined.
Treating Salivary Gland Cancer
Tumors in the salivary glands are typically treated with surgery. Even the benign tumors are surgically removed. The benign tumors can get in the way while eating and may cause growths that can be seen by others. Like most benign tumors they have a chance of returning. Sometimes a doctor may choose to use radiation to prevent the return of a benign tumor. Malignant tumors are treated with either surgery, radiation, or chemotherapy.
Dental hygiene is of the utmost importance in keeping your mouth healthy. Saliva plays a part in a healthy mouth. You may not have considered the importance of salivary glands before, but when you have problems with those glands, you take notice. A tumor in your mouth is not a problem you want to have, especially one associated with the salivary glands. It is good to know that most of them are benign and can be treated easily with surgical removal. Cancerous tumors are rare, and treatment is extensive. You should pay attention to changes in your mouth and take action when you notice changes.
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