Salivary glands make saliva which keeps food moist, enzymes that help digest food and antibodies that help protect against infections of the mouth and throat. There are 3 pairs of major salivary glands:
There are also hundreds of small salivary glands lining parts of the mouth, nose, and larynx that can be seen only with a microscope.
Salivary gland cancer is a rare head and neck cancer in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the tissues of the salivary glands.
Learn more about oral cancers.
Otolaryngology surgeons at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) specialize in surgical techniques for salivary gland cancer. We offer the most current diagnostic methods and proven treatments, including neuro-monitoring and minimally invasive surgical approaches aided by video technology. We are part of the surgical team for Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women's Cancer Center (DF/BWCC), an exceptional collaboration between two world-class medical centers.
The cause of most salivary gland cancers is not known.
Salivary gland cancer may not cause any symptoms. It may be found during a regular dental check-up or physical exam. Signs and symptoms may be caused by salivary gland cancer or by other conditions. Check with your doctor if you have any of the following:
A risk factor is anything that may increase a person's chance of developing a disease. It may be an activity--such as smoking or diet, family history, or many other things. Different diseases, including cancers, have different risk factors.
Although these factors can increase a person's risk, they do not necessarily cause the disease. Some people with one or more risk factors never develop the disease, while others develop disease and have no known risk factors. But, knowing your risk factors to any disease can help to guide you into the appropriate actions, including changing behaviors and being clinically monitored for the disease.
In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination, diagnostic procedures for salivary gland cancer may include one or more of the following:
Because salivary gland cancer can be hard to diagnose, patients should ask to have the tissue samples checked by a pathologist who has experience in diagnosing salivary gland cancer. Once a diagnosis is made, the cancer will be staged (to determine the extent of the disease) before a treatment plan is established.
Patients with salivary gland cancer should have their treatment planned by a team of surgeons and medical doctors who are experts in treating salivary gland cancer such as the specialists at Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women's Cancer Center (DF/BWCC), an exceptional collaboration between two world-class medical centers. The DF/BWCC is composed of BWH surgical oncologists and medical oncologists, radiation oncologists and other specialists at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.
Because the salivary glands help in eating and digesting food, patients may need special help adjusting to the side effects of the cancer and its treatment. You may be referred to other healthcare specialists who have experience and expertise in treating patients with salivary gland cancer and who specialize in certain areas of health care. These include the following:
Treatment may include:
A Brigham and Women’s Hospital otolaryngologist will begin with a complete evaluation and assessment of your specific condition. As part of the assessment, we will establish which treatment is indicated. A customized treatment plan will be established and you will work with the appropriate BWH services.
Careful monitoring and the involvement of an experienced otolaryngologist are important to the successful outcome for patients with ear, nose and throat disorders and conditions.
If you are having surgery or a procedure, you will likely be scheduled for a visit to the Weiner Center for Preoperative Evaluation for pre-operative information and tests.
If surgery is needed, you will be taken care of in the operating room by an experienced otolaryngology surgeon. After surgery, you will go to the post-surgical care unit where you will receive comprehensive care by an experienced medical and nursing staff.
Brigham and Women’s Hospital provides a multidisciplinary approach to patient care by collaborating with colleagues who have extensive experience in diagnosing and treating ear, nose and throat disorders and conditions. In addition, patients have full access to BWH’s world-renowned academic medical community, with its diverse specialists, and state-of-the-art facilities.
When surgery is necessary, our board-certified surgeons offer extensive surgical experience, performing thousands of operations per year. Our otolaryngologists are faculty members at Harvard Medical School and active researchers who continually seek causes and investigate treatments for conditions and diseases affecting the ear, nose and throat.
Learn more about salivary gland cancer at the American Cancer Society.
Find more information about salivary gland cancer at the National Institutes of Health.
Visit the Kessler Health Education Library in the Bretholtz Center for Patients and Families to access computers and knowledgeable staff.
Learn about the Weiner Center for Preoperative Evaluation.
Access a complete directory of patient and family services.
For over a century, a leader in patient care, medical education and research, with expertise in virtually every specialty of medicine and surgery.