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Signs and Symptoms of Cancer of the Salivary Glands

written by: DaniellaNicole • edited by: Diana Cooper • updated: 10/17/2010

Learn about salivary gland cancer, including the rates at which it is diagnosed. Find out what symptoms can accompany this rare form of cancer.

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    About Salivary Gland Cancer

    Salivary gland cancer is a form of cancer that starts in one of the multiple salivary glands located near and in the mouth. Tumors caused by this form of cancer can be malignant (cancerous) or benign (non-cancerous).

    According to the American Cancer Society, salivary cancer is very rare, affecting less than one percent of all cancer patients in the United States. The symptoms of salivary gland cancer are easily identifiable and if they appear, should be evaluated by a physician.

    Salivary glands come in pairs and there are three major types of them. They are the parotid glands, sublingual glands and submandibular glands.

    According to Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, approximately 80 percent of all salivary gland cancer tumors form in the parotid glands, with about 75 percent of those being benign. Ten to fifteen percent of tumors appear in the submandibular glands, with about 50 percent of them being benign.

    In addition to the three major types of salivary glands, there are hundreds of microscopic salivary glands located in the mouth, nose, sinuses and larynx.

    The following are some of the signs of salivary gland cancer.

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    Swelling

    Swelling or a lump may form on the jaw or near the jaw when salivary gland cancer is present. Additionally, the neck or mouth may show signs of swelling or lumps as part of salivary gland cancer.

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    Muscle Weakness

    When salivary gland cancer develops, it may cause one side of the face or mouth to have muscle weakness. This can affect eating, speaking and smiling. It can be attributed to other causes, but is one of the more common signs of salivary gland cancer.

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    Numbness

    Numbness can occur due to this type of cancer. When it does, it can affect the face or neck.

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    Swallowing

    Though it can be attributed to other causes as well, difficulty in swallowing is a sign of salivary gland cancer. This symptom can be attributed to other conditions, but if it persists it should be evaluated by a physician.

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    Pain

    Pain caused by this form of cancer occurs in the area of one or more salivary glands. This symptom can occur alone or in conjunction with other symptoms.

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    Changes

    Salivary gland cancer can cause a difference in appearance of the shape or size of the neck or face. This difference will be between one side of the face or neck in comparison to the other.

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    Mouth Movement

    Another one of the symptoms of salivary gland cancer is having difficulty with opening the mouth more than a small amount. The mouth cannot be opened very widely without difficulty and possibly not without pain.

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    References

    Salivary Gland Cancer. Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. http://www.seattlecca.org/diseases/salivary-gland-cancer-overview.cfm

    Salivary Gland Cancer. Mayo Clinic Staff. March 13, 2010. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/salivary-gland-cancer/DS00708

    Salivary Gland Cancer. American Cancer Society. http://www.cancer.org/Cancer/SalivaryGlandCancer/index