Salivary Gland Tumours

Noncancerous or cancerous tumours in the salivary glands

  • More common over the age of 45
  • Gender, genetics, and lifestyle are not significant factors

Tumours that affect the salivary glands are rare, particularly in people under the age of 45. Three-quarters of the tumours occur in one of the two parotid salivary glands that lie behind the angles of the jaw. Only about 1 in 5 salivary gland tumours is cancerous.

The symptoms of a salivary gland tumour depend on whether or not it is a cancerous tumour, but in all cases there is a lump that may be felt either protruding inside the mouth or on the face. Noncancerous tumours are usually painless, rubbery in consistency, and mobile when touched. These benign tumours usually grow slowly.

Cancerous tumours of the salivary gland usually grow quickly, feel hard, and are sometimes painful. The facial nerve, which passes through the gland, may be affected as the cancer develops, leading to paralysis of part of the face (see Facial palsy). If the tumour is left untreated, the cancer may spread to nearby lymph nodes in the neck and from there to other parts of the body, such as the chest and liver.

Salivary gland tumour

This swelling close to the ear and over the angle of the jawbone is caused by a noncancerous tumour of a salivary gland.

What is the treatment?

Treatment for a noncancerous tumour of the parotid gland is an operation to remove the affected part of the gland. This is a very delicate procedure and there is a risk that the facial nerve may be damaged. If damage does occur, the mouth may droop as a result. The nerve sometimes recovers, but in other cases the damage may be permanent.

If a tumour is cancerous, all of the affected gland is removed. If the tumour has spread to the lymph nodes in the neck, these nodes may also need to be removed. After surgery, it may be necessary to perform radiotherapy to destroy remaining cancerous cells.

What is the prognosis?

Noncancerous tumours can usually be removed successfully but may sometimes recur. Rarely, a noncancerous tumour may become cancerous if it is not removed.

The outlook for people with cancerous tumours depends on which glands are affected and how far advanced the cancer is. For small parotid tumours treated early, before they have spread, approximately 8 in 10 people survive for at least 10 years after diagnosis. However, for advanced parotid tumours that have spread and affected the facial nerve, only about 1 in 10 people survives for more than 5 years. For cancerous tumours of the other salivary glands, the outlook is generally better.

From the 2010 revision of the Complete Home Medical Guide © Dorling Kindersley Limited.

The subjects, conditions and treatments covered in this encyclopaedia are for information only and may not be covered by your insurance product should you make a claim.

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