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Quick Facts

Salivary Gland Cancer


The Manual's Editorial Staff

Last full review/revision May 2020| Content last modified May 2020
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Your salivary glands make saliva (spit). These glands are under the floor of your mouth, under your jaw, and in your cheeks just in front of each ear. Small tubes carry the saliva from the glands to your mouth.

Locating the Major Salivary Glands

Locating the Major Salivary Glands

What is salivary gland cancer?

Salivary gland cancer is cancer in the organs that make your saliva.

  • Salivary gland cancer is most common in the gland in front of your ear (parotid gland)

  • Salivary gland cancer starts as a painless lump in the gland

  • As the cancer grows bigger, it gets painful

  • To treat salivary gland cancer, doctors do surgery and radiation therapy

What are the symptoms of salivary gland cancer?

The symptoms are:

  • A lump in your mouth, under your jaw, or in front and just below your ear that grows bigger

  • Pain that may be worse when you eat

  • Trouble opening your mouth, moving part of your face, or tingling or numbness in your face

How can doctors tell if I have salivary gland cancer?

If doctors suspect salivary gland cancer, they’ll do a biopsy. With a biopsy, they remove a sample of your tissue to look at under a microscope.

To see how big the cancer is and whether it has spread, doctors will do:

How do doctors treat salivary gland cancer?

Doctors will do:

One of the nerves that controls your face runs through one of the salivary glands. During surgery, doctors try to avoid this nerve unless the cancer has spread to it.

Radiation to your salivary glands may cause:

  • Loss of taste

  • Dry mouth

  • Trouble swallowing and speaking

  • Dental problems, if your teeth were exposed to radiation

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