Salivary Gland Cancer: Patient Education

Cancer Facts

According to the American Cancer Society:

  • Salivary gland cancers are not very common, accounting for less than 1 percent of cancers in the United States. They occur at a yearly rate of about 2 cases per 100,000 people per year in the United States.

According to the American Society of Clinical Oncology:

  • An estimated two adults out of 100,000 will be diagnosed with salivary gland cancer this year.

Salivary gland cancer is a group of malignant cells that starts in one of your salivary glands.

Your salivary glands are the structures that produce saliva, a fluid that lubricates your mouth and throat. Your saliva contains enzymes that help digest food; it also contains antibodies that help shield you from infection.

Two Types of Salivary Glands

You have two primary types of salivary glands. Cancers originating in different salivary glands may require distinct treatments.

Major Salivary Glands

Parotid Glands

  • The largest of your salivary glands
  • On the side of your face, near your ears
  • Around 75 percent of salivary gland tumors begin here

Submandibular Glands

  • Medium-sized salivary glands
  • At the back of your jaw, secreting saliva under your tong
  • Around 20 percent of salivary gland tumors begin here
  • Tumors here are usually benign

Sublingual Glands

  • Smallest of your major salivary glands
  • On the bottom of your mouth, below your tongue
  • Tumors here are rare but almost always malignant

Minor Salivary Glands

  • Hundreds of minor salivary glands
  • Microscopic in size
  • Beneath your tongue; above your palate; inside your cheeks, nose, sinuses, larynx
  • Tumors here are uncommon

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