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Salivary Gland Cancer

Salivary gland cancer is a rare condition that affects the glands located along your jaw and throat. The salivary glands create saliva, helping you chew and digest food.

The first signs of salivary gland cancer are often lumps in your jaw and mouth. You may also experience problems swallowing, numbness in your face or pain around a salivary gland.

Most salivary gland tumors begin in the parotid glands, located toward the back of the jaw. A smaller proportion of tumors begin in the submandibular glands at the bottom of the jaw and the sublingual glands beneath the tongue.

Parotid gland tumors often cause lumps that can be felt or seen in the face. These tumors tend to be caught early and are less likely to spread to other tissue. The prognosis for these cancers is usually good, approaching a 90 percent survival rate.

Sublingual tumors can sometimes be felt as lumps beneath the tongue. These tumors may be more aggressive and are often found at a later stage of growth. As with many cancers, the outlook with sublingual tumors depends on the stage of the cancer.

While it is unknown what causes salivary gland cancer, certain factors increase your risk of developing the cancer. Risk factors include older age, exposure to radiation at any point in your life or exposure to other carcinogens (substances that can cause cancer).

If you or your doctor detects lumps around the salivary glands, you may need additional testing to determine if it is cancer. You may undergo imaging procedures, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computed tomography (CT) scans that help your physician determine the size and exact location of the tumor. A biopsy, where a small sample of tissue is removed from the tumor, may also be necessary to make an accurate cancer diagnosis.

These diagnostic tests also allow your physician to determine the stage of your cancer. The stage of cancer is affected by the size of your tumor, if it has spread into other nearby tissue and if it has spread to your lymph nodes. The earlier the stage of cancer, such as Stage I, the better your treatment options.

Salivary gland cancer requires a team of experts for effective treatment. At Indiana University Health, our Ear, Nose & Throat (ENT) specialists, plastic surgeons, radiation oncologists and medical oncologists collaborate to develop a treatment plan personalized to fit your needs.

We have specific expertise in treating salivary gland cancer. These cancers are rare, especially tumors in the sublingual gland. People with salivary gland cancer are often referred to IU Health ENT specialists because we have experience treating even the rarest forms of these cancers.

At IU Health, we are dedicated to improving the treatment of salivary gland cancer through furthering research and physician education. We provide advanced fellowship training to physicians through our partnership with Indiana University School of Medicine. Our research also allows us to provide leading edge care using the latest technologies and medicines.

How We Can Help

How We Can Help

Salivary Gland Cancer Treatment Information

IU Health specialists use comprehensive treatment options to treat salivary gland cancer, no matter what stage it is in. Services include:

Salivary Gland Cancer Locations & Physicians

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Find a Specialist

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Salivary Gland Cancer Support Services

Find out more about this rare cancer by visiting the websites below.