Treating Salivary Gland Tumors

Salivary ducts drain the salivary glands but sometimes the chemicals in saliva can crystallize into a stone that blocks the ducts leading to pain and swelling. People with salivary stones may also experience dry mouth, difficulty swallowing or opening their mouths and, if left untreated, can lead to repeated salivary gland infections.

Salivary gland stones are often discovered through an examination of the head and neck by a physician who observes one or more enlarged, tender salivary gland. The doctor may be able to feel the stone during examination. Scans such as X-rays, ultrasound or CT scan of the face can confirm the diagnosis.

Tumors

The parotid glands, the largest salivary glands, are found on each side of the face, just in front of the ears. The majority of salivary gland tumors are found in the parotid glands. Most of these tumors are benign, and the most common tumors of the parotid glands are pleomorphic adenomas. The most common cancerous lesions of the parotid gland are mucoepidermoid cancer and adenoid cystic cancer.

Many minor salivary glands exist throughout the lining of mouth, palate, throat and even the nose and sinuses, and tumors can occur in any of these areas. They sometimes occur in the voice box and upper airway of lung particularly the trachea and bronchi.

Symptoms

Most of these tumors are identified as an asymptomatic mass. For parotid gland tumors, the mass is often a painless but firm swelling, which may increase in size. These masses are often slow-growing, however the slow speed and almost unnoticeable growth can be deceptive. The lack of pain or discomfort and slow growth are not always a sign of a benign tumor. Cancerous tumors are usually painless and slow growing as well.

Some patients experience rapid tumor growth or pain and weakness of the facial muscles. These are possible signs of cancerous change.

Diagnosis

If you or a physician discovers a mass in your neck, which may or may not be from salivary glands, a consultation with an otolaryngologist is necessary. The physician should be able to determine where the tumor has started, by noting the exact location of the mass.

Not all masses or bumps of the major salivary gland are tumors. Benign cysts or obstructive cysts also appear as a mass. Two tests that are useful in determining the nature of the mass are fine needle aspiration biopsy and radiologic imaging, which is often a CT scan. During a fine needle biopsy, an experienced head and neck surgeon inserts a needle, coupled to a syringe, into the mass directly through the skin. The sample of the tumor cells is then sent to a lab for analysis.

A physician may order other imaging or testing. Scans are typically not used to provide a diagnosis but are used to help the surgeon to confirm the exact location of the mass, its size, the solid or cystic nature of the lesion, as well as the extent of the lesion. This is useful information for both diagnosis and treatment planning. Masses are sometimes located outside of but adjacent to the major salivary glands.

Treatment

Salivary gland tumors are treated by surgical removal. In the case of benign tumors, surgery with complete removal of tumor is the only treatment needed.

In cases where salivary gland tumors are cancerous, surgery is the most effective treatment. However, in some patients, radiation therapy is also recommended. The need for radiation therapy is determined by numerous factors including the exact kind of cancer and its grade, the size of tumor and the location of the tumor.

If you need a referral to a physician at Palmdale Regional Medical Center, call our free physician referral service at 1-800-851-9780.
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