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Salivary Gland Cancer Diagnosis

Head and neck Cancer specialists at the Abramson Cancer Center use leading edge techniques and tools to diagnose all types of salivary gland cancers.

There is a rating scale our specialists use to classify how quickly salivary gland cancer grows and spreads, as well as how abnormal the cancer cells appear under a microscope.

  • Grade 1: Known as low grade or well differentiated. These cells look fairly normal under a microscope. They are slow growing and are highly treatable.
  • Grade 2: Known as intermediate grade and moderately differentiated. These cells appear moderately abnormal under the microscope.
  • Grade 3: Known as high grade or poorly differentiated. These cells look very abnormal under a microscope and grow and spread quickly. 

Salivary Gland Cancer Diagnostic Tools

Tests and procedures used to diagnose salivary gland cancer include:

  • Physical exam: Your doctor will ask questions about your health history and examine your skin to look for signs of salivary gland cancer.
  • Biopsy: To confirm salivary gland cancer a biopsy will be performed. The tissue is sent to a laboratory for examination. For parotid and submandibular gland masses, patients will typically undergo a fine needle aspiration (FNA) using ultrasound guidance to establish diagnosis. This is usually performed in the in-office setting by one of our head and neck surgeons or interventional radiologists.
  • Nasopharyngolaryngoscopy: A nasopharyngolaryngoscopy is a procedure that involves placing a flexible fiberoptic camera through the nose to see the surface of the oropharynx and other structures.
  • Imaging tests (CT Scan or MRI): A CT scan or MRI may be performed in cases of advanced tumors or if there is a concern that the cancer has spread to other areas of the body. 
  • Blood tests: A complete blood count (CBC) that will examine the number of red blood cells and platelets, and the number and type of white blood cells. The CBC will also examine other portions of the blood