Salivary Gland Cancer

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Salivary gland cancer is a rare disease. But it can invade your mouth and jawbone. Getting the diagnosis can feel scary, and the tumors themselves can cause constant pain. At UVA, you'll find experts at treating complex cancers in delicate areas. We offer the latest treatments, clinical trials, and top skills you can't find everywhere else. 

Where Tumors Grow in Your Salivary Glands

The salivary glands make saliva. It helps you digest food. And its antibodies protect against infection.

We all have both major and minor salivary glands. Cancer can grow in all of them.

Of the major salivary glands, you'll find:

  • Parotid glands in front of and just below each ear
  • Sublingual glands under your tongue in the floor of the mouth
  • Submandibular glands below the jawbone

Hundreds of minor salivary glands line parts of the mouth, nose, and larynx. You can only see them with a microscope. Most small salivary gland tumors begin in the roof of the mouth.

Do You Have Salivary Gland Cancer?

We don't know the exact cause. But radiation exposure can increase your risk.

Check with your doctor if you have:

  • A lump (usually painless) in the area of the ear, cheek, jaw, lip, or inside the mouth
  • Fluid draining from the ear
  • Trouble swallowing or opening the mouth widely
  • Numbness or weakness in the face
  • Pain in the face that won't go away

Salivary Gland Cancer Diagnosis

At UVA, you know you'll find high-tech tools and the latest imaging. We can find salivary gland tumors using:

  • MRI 
  • CT scan or CAT scan 
  • PET scan 
  • Endoscopy
  • Biopsy

Treatment at UVA

You'll want to find care from experts with the skill to treat this tender part of your body. At UVA, you'll find specialists with the kind of experience you can trust.

You'll also get care from a whole team. Together, we'll work with you to find the best way forward. The team includes:

  • Head and neck surgeon
  • Facial nerve rehabilitation specialist
  • Radiation oncologist
  • Medical oncologist
  • Dentist
  • Speech and language pathologist
  • Dietitian

We treat salivary gland cancer with:

Content was created using EBSCO’s Health Library. Edits to original content made by Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice.