Salivary gland cancer (cancer type) diagnosis medical concept on tablet screen with stethoscope.
Salivary gland cancer is a relatively rare form of cancer, accounting for only around 6% of all head and neck cancers. However, despite its low incidence, it is still important to be aware of the symptoms, potential causes, and treatment options available for this disease.
What is salivary gland cancer?
Salivary gland cancer affects the three main salivary glands – the parotid, submandibular, and sublingual salivary glands. The main symptoms of this condition are a lump or mass in the area of the gland, pain or numbness in the affected area, and changes in the way the affected gland functions.
The most common cause of salivary gland cancer is old age. Other risk factors include smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, and exposure to radiation.
In terms of specific types of salivary gland cancer, mucoepidermoid carcinoma is the most common, accounting for around 70% of all cases. Other types include adenoid cystic carcinoma, acinic cell carcinoma, and ductal carcinoma.
The good news is that, with early diagnosis and treatment, salivary gland cancer can be highly curable. Patients who think they may be at risk must see their doctor for regular check-ups.
What are the main causes of salivary gland cancer?
The primary salivary gland cancer causes are unknown. However, there are certain risk factors associated with this disease. The six main risk factors for salivary gland cancer are as follows:
- Old age.
- Smoking cigarettes.
- Drinking alcohol.
- Exposure to radiation.
- Family history of cancer.
- Infection with the Epstein-Barr virus or Human papillomavirus (HPV).
Apart from the aforementioned risk factors, certain conditions can also increase the risk of salivary gland cancer.
For example, inflammation of the salivary gland, also called Sjögren’s syndrome, is another possible cause of salivary gland cancer. Sjögren’s syndrome is an autoimmune disorder that affects the exocrine glands, including the salivary glands.
What are the signs and symptoms of salivary gland cancer?
The most common symptoms of salivary gland cancer include a lump or mass in the area of the mouth or jaw.
Other early signs of salivary gland cancer may include:
- Swelling in the face or neck
- Difficulty swallowing
- Pain in the face or neck
- Numbness in the face or neck
- Ear pain
- Bleeding from mouth
- Difficulty in moving facial muscles
- Unexpected weight loss
These symptoms can also be caused by benign (non-cancerous) conditions, so it is important to see an oncologist in order to receive the right diagnosis for the condition.
Diagnosis and staging of salivary gland cancer
Salivary gland cancer diagnosis begins with a physical exam and a review of the patient’s medical history. We may also order a CT scan, MRI, or PET scan to get a better look at the tumour. A biopsy may be performed, in which a small tissue sample is removed for examination. This is usually needed to confirm the diagnosis.
Once salivary gland cancer is diagnosed, the next step is to determine the stage or extent of the disease. Staging is important because it helps guide treatment decisions. The stages of salivary gland cancer are as follows:
- Stage 0: The cancer is in-situ and has not spread to the nearby lymph nodes.
- Stage I: The cancer is less than 2 cm in diameter and has not spread to the nearby lymph nodes or metastasized to distant organs.
- Stage II: The cancer is still in the salivary glands, but the size is between 2 cm to 4 cm in diameter.
- Stage III: The cancer has a diameter of more than 4 cm and has spread to the nearby soft tissue.
- Stage IV: The cancer has metastasized to the nearby lymph nodes and distant organs. This is the advanced stage.
Treatment options for salivary gland cancer
Salivary gland cancer treatment options depend on the stage of the disease. However, the available treatment options include:
- Surgery: The cancerous tumour and the surrounding affected tissue is removed surgically.
- Radiation therapy: Also known as radiotherapy, it involves the use of high-energy x-ray beams to kill the cancer cells as well as to shrink the tumours.
- Chemotherapy: The circulation of cytotoxic drugs throughout the patient’s bloodstream stops the cancer cells from rapidly dividing to prevent the spread of cancer.
- Targeted therapy: Certain drugs are used to target the specific genes and proteins that help cancer cells multiply in the body.
- Immunotherapy: Specific drugs are used to help the body’s immune system fight cancer itself.
Surgery is a preferred treatment for salivary gland cancer. The goal of surgery is to remove the tumour and any other cancerous mass. It is generally followed by chemo and radiation therapy to eliminate any residual or resurfacing cancerous cells and accelerate remission.
Salivary gland cancer is a very rare cancer affecting the salivary glands. However, it is important to be aware of the common symptoms and risk factors associated with the diseases for an early diagnosis.
If you feel a lump or mass around your mouth area, it’s important to see a doctor so that they can rule out other possible causes and provide you with the right diagnosis and treatment on time.
The CK Birla Hospital has a team of internationally reputed oncologists with expertise in precision medicine and state-of-art chemo facilities offering the best cancer care in the country. Our head and neck cancer experts are adept at providing timely treatment & hospitable care you need during this tough time.