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Salivary gland tumors

  • Definition

    Salivary gland tumors are abnormal cells growing in the ducts that drain the salivary glands.


    Alternative Names

    Tumor - salivary duct


    Causes, incidence, and risk factors

    The salivary glands are located around the mouth. They produce saliva, which moistens food to help with chewing and swallowing.

    Saliva contains enzymes that begin the digestion process, and help cleanse the mouth by washing away bacteria and food particles. By keeping the mouth moist, saliva helps to keep dentures, retainers, or other orthodontic appliances in place.

    There are three pairs of major salivary glands. The largest are the parotid glands, located in each cheek over the jaw in front of the ears. Two submandibular glands are at the back of the mouth on both sides of the jaw. Two sublingual glands are under the floor of the mouth. There are also thousands of minor salivary glands around the rest of the mouth.

    All of the salivary glands empty saliva into the mouth through ducts that open at various locations in the mouth.

    Salivary gland tumors are rare, especially in children. Swelling of the salivary glands is most commonly due to:

    • Abdominal surgery
    • Cirrhosis of the liver
    • Infections
    • Other cancers
    • Salivary duct stones
    • Salivary gland infections
    • Sarcoidosis
    • Sjogren syndrome

    The most common type of salivary gland tumor is a slow-growing noncancerous (benign) tumor of the parotid gland that gradually increases the size of the gland. However, some of these tumors can be cancerous (malignant).

    Malignant salivary gland tumors are usually carcinomas.