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What is Salivary Gland Cancer?


Salivary glands produce saliva and are the glands that are found inside and near the mouth. Saliva contains enzymes that help digest food and antibodies that kill germs and keep your mouth clean. Salivary gland cancer is the growth of abnormal cells developing in the gland or in the tubes (ducts) that drain the salivary glands. Salivary glands are made up of many different kinds of cells, and tumors can start in any of these cells. Therefore, there are many different types of salivary gland cancers, but they are relatively, making up only six percent of head and neck cancers.

Types of Salivary Glands

There are two types of salivary glands that are classified as either major or minor.

Major Salivary Glands

There are three sets of major salivary glands located on the side of the face:

  • Parotid glands: The largest of the salivary glands are located on the sides of the face, in front of the ears. The parotid glands are the most common place for salivary gland tumors to develop (approximately seven out of ten tumors begin here).
  • Submandibular glands: located below the jaw, these salivary glands are smaller than parotid glands, secreting saliva underneath of the tongue.
  • Sublingual glands: The smallest of the major salivary glands are located under the tongue or the floor of the mouth. 

Minor Salivary Glands

The minor salivary glands are located in the lining of the inside of the cheeks, mouth, tongue, lips, nose, sinuses and larynx. There are hundreds of minor salivary glands. Minor salivary gland tumors are rare, but are often more cancerous than benign.