Salivary Gland Tumors Demystified: Types, Causes, Treatment, and more

Salivary Gland Tumours

Salivary gland tumours are abnormal growths that develop within the salivary glands, which are responsible for producing saliva. While these tumours are relatively rare compared to other types of tumours, understanding their characteristics, causes, and treatment options is crucial for timely diagnosis and effective management.

Types of Salivary Gland Tumors

Salivary gland tumours can be classified into various types based on their cellular characteristics. The most common type is pleomorphic adenoma, a benign tumour that arises from the cells lining the salivary gland ducts. Other benign tumours include Warthin’s tumour, oncocytoma, and mucocele. Malignant (cancerous) salivary gland tumours include mucoepidermoid carcinoma, adenoid cystic carcinoma, acinic cell carcinoma, and others.

Causes and Risk Factors

The exact cause of salivary gland tumours is often unknown. However, certain risk factors have been identified. Previous exposure to radiation therapy of the head and neck, especially during childhood, increases the risk of developing salivary gland tumours. Genetic factors, such as mutations in the pleomorphic adenoma gene 1 (PLAG1), may also contribute. Age plays a role, with most salivary gland tumours occurring in adults, particularly those over 50. Certain viral infections like human papillomavirus (HPV) and Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), have been associated with specific types of salivary gland tumours.

Symptoms and Diagnosis

The symptoms of salivary gland tumours depend on the location, size, and type of tumour. 

Common signs include:

  • A painless/painful lump or swelling in the face, neck, or mouth
  • Difficulty swallowing or opening the mouth
  • Numbness or weakness in the face/facial muscle
  • Weakness or paralysis in the face/facial muscle in advanced cases

If a salivary gland tumour is suspected, a thorough evaluation is necessary. This may involve physical examination, imaging tests such as ultrasound or MRI, and a biopsy to confirm the diagnosis.

Treatment Options

The treatment approach for salivary gland tumours depends on several factors, including the type, size, location, and whether the tumour is benign or malignant. Surgery is often the primary treatment, aiming to remove the tumour while preserving normal salivary gland function. In some cases, radiation therapy may be used to target residual tumour cells or treat malignant tumours. Chemotherapy and targeted therapy may be considered for advanced or metastatic salivary gland cancers. The treatment plan is personalized based on the individual’s specific situation.

Prognosis and Follow-up

The prognosis for salivary gland tumours varies depending on factors such as tumour type, stage, and treatment. Benign tumours generally have a good prognosis, while the prognosis for malignant tumours can range from favourable to more challenging. Regular follow-up appointments are essential to monitor for recurrence and ensure optimal long-term management.

If you experience any concerning symptoms or notice abnormalities in the salivary gland area, it is important to seek medical attention for a thorough evaluation.