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Clinical Specialties - Cancer

Salivary Gland Cancers

Head & Neck Cancers, Skin & Soft Tissue MDTSalivary gland cancer is a rare type of head and neck cancer. Most salivary gland tumours are not life threatening (malignant) and are called benign tumours.

The head and neck cancer experts at Sydney Adventist Hospital use several methods to confirm your diagnosis and determine the stage of your disease. They have experience with early-stage as well as complex cancer; have access to advanced diagnostic tools and a wide range of treatments, including clinical trials. At the same time, our supportive clinicians help you manage side effects to support your quality of life. Explore this section to learn more about salivary gland cancers, their side effects and your treatment options.

About salivary gland cancer

Salivary gland cancer can begin in any of the salivary glands in your mouth, neck or throat. These glands are important in aiding digestion, keeping your mouth moist and helping your teeth stay healthy.

You have three pairs of major salivary glands under and behind your jaw — parotid, sublingual and submandibular. There are also plenty of other tiny salivary glands in your lips, inside your cheeks, and throughout your mouth and throat.

Salivary gland tumours (or cancers) generally occur in the parotid gland, accounting for nearly 85 per cent of all salivary gland tumours. Approximately 25 per cent of parotid tumours are cancerous (malignant).

According to the Cancer Council of Australia, approximately 320 people are diagnosed with salivary gland cancer each year.

What are the symptoms of salivary gland cancer?

Symptoms of salivary gland cancer may include:

  • A lump or swelling on or near your jaw or in your neck or mouth
  • Numbness in part of your face
  • Muscle weakness on one side of your face
  • Persistent pain in the area of a salivary gland
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Trouble opening your mouth widely

It is important to remember that these symptoms may be attributed to a number of conditions other than cancer. If you are concerned, consult with your general practitioner (GP).

How are salivary gland cancers diagnosed?

Making an accurate diagnosis is a key first step in developing the best treatment plan for salivary gland cancer. Not everyone will need to have every test for salivary gland cancer.  Some of the common tests include:

  • Physical exam
  • Nasoendoscopy
  • Biopsy
  • CT scan
  • MRI scan
  • PET scan
  • Ultrasound

Once a diagnosis has been made, your integrated team of head and neck experts will use these test results to determine the stage or extent of the cancer which will largely influence the recommended treatment approach.

What are my treatment options for salivary gland cancer?

Salivary gland cancer can be treated in a number of ways depending on the location, the stage, and the type of cancer, including:

  • Surgery to remove the cancer
  • Radiation therapy, using high-energy rays (such as x-rays) to destroy the cancer cells
  • Drug therapies that kill cancer cells

In most cases, treatment will involve surgery. Radiation therapy is also a very common and effective part of the treatment and often chemotherapy is recommended for advanced salivary gland cancers which could potentially be offered through a clinical trial.

If you have salivary gland cancer, our multidisciplinary team of head and neck specialists will discuss your cancer and develop a treatment plan that is best for you.  Discuss your plan with your doctor and ask about potential changes in your appearance and facial expressions, and what resources are available to you after treatment, such as rehabilitation and other support services.

Resources and useful salivary gland cancer links
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Sydney Adventist Hospital Clinical Specialties and Services