Overview

About Salivary Gland Cancer

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About Salivary Gland Cancer

Salivary gland cancer is a rare disease where cancerous cells form in the tissues of the salivary glands.

Signs & Symptoms

These are signs of salivary gland cancer:

  • Fluid draining from the ear
  • A lump (usually painless) in the area of the ear, cheek, jaw, lip, or inside the mouth
  • Difficulty opening your mouth widely or swallowing
  • Numbness or weakness in the face
  • Pain in the face that does not go away

Many other health problems can also cause these signs. If you have any of these signs, see your doctor as soon as possible.

Learn more about salivary gland cancer from the National Cancer Institute.

Image of the Salivary Glands

anatomical drawing of salivary glands

Anatomy of the salivary glands. The three main pairs of salivary glands are the parotid glands, the sublingual glands, and the submandibular glands.

Specialties & Treatments

The treatment or combination of treatments each patient has depends on the stage of the cancer, recommendations of the care team, and the patient’s wishes. These are the most common types of treatment for salivary gland cancer: 

  • Surgery
  • Radiation therapy
  • Chemotherapy

Huntsman Cancer Institute’s Head and Neck Cancers Program provides comprehensive, compassionate, state-of-the-art care for people with these cancers. Our experts treat and diagnose all types of head and neck cancers and conditions.

Learn more about types of cancer treatments and about salivary gland cancer surgery choices from the National Cancer Institute.

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Causes & Risk Factors

Anything that increases your chance of getting a disease is called a risk factor. Having a risk factor does not mean you are sure to get cancer. It means your chances are higher than the average person’s. Talk with your doctor to learn more about your cancer risk.

The chance of getting salivary gland cancer increases with age. These are other risk factors:

  • Previous radiation treatment to the head and neck
  • Exposure to certain substances at work

Learn more about ways to prevent cancer and about cancer screenings.

Diagnosis & Stages

Diagnosis of Salivary Gland Cancer

Doctors use these tests to diagnose salivary gland cancer:

  • Physical exam and history: A health care provider examines your body for signs of disease. Your personal health habits, past illnesses, and symptoms help guide the exam.
  • Imaging tests: Using dyes, x-rays, magnets, radio waves, and/or computer technology, your health care provider can create detailed images of internal organs. Your health care provider may inject or have you swallow a dye to help see the images.
  • Biopsy: The health care provider removes cell or tissue samples so they can be viewed under a microscope to check for signs of cancer.

Stages of Salivary Gland Cancer

Doctors use staging to find out if cancer has spread within the salivary gland or to other parts of the body. Stages are determined by the size of the tumor, the number of lymph nodes that the cancer has invaded, and whether the cancer has spread to other parts of the body. There are three ways that cancer spreads in the body: through tissue, the lymph system, or the blood.

These are the stages used for salivary gland cancer:

  • Stage I
  • Stage II
  • Stage III
  • Stage IV (IVA, IVB, IVC)

When cancer spreads from where it started to another part of the body, it is called metastasis. These metastatic cancer cells are the same type of cancer as the primary tumor. For example, if salivary gland cancer spreads to the bone, the cancer cells in the bone are actually salivary gland cancer cells. The disease is metastatic salivary gland cancer, not bone cancer.

Learn more about the stages of salivary gland cancer from the National Cancer Institute.