Symptoms of Salivary Gland Cancer

The three major pairs of salivary glands
Encyclopaedia Britannica/UIG / Getty Images

Salivary gland cancer is a rare type of cancer that may affect any of the salivary glands in the head and neck region. The effects of salivary gland cancer can vary depending on what gland is affected. In some cases, a person with salivary gland cancer may not experience any symptoms.

Symptoms of salivary gland cancer include:

  • Swelling of the salivary glands
  • Pain in the salivary glands
  • Facial tingling or numbness
  • Weakness in facial muscles caused by the tumor impinging on nerve pathways in the face
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Difficulty opening the mouth widely
  • Ulcer, lump, or bump on the lips, inside of the mouth, or inside of the cheek

If you are experiencing any of the signs or symptoms of salivary gland cancer, it is important that you see your doctor. Do not wait for the effects to improve or go away on their own, because the condition can worsen if it is left untreated.

When you do visit your doctor, be sure to thoroughly describe your symptoms, and include information about the timing, triggers, and any associated factors. Keeping a symptom journal can be a helpful way to document your symptoms and it can help you and your doctor identify possible causes or patterns.

These symptoms can also be the symptoms of other, less serious conditions and diseases. A physical exam is the first step in diagnosing salivary gland cancer, so your doctor will likely do a thorough physical examination. Depending on the results of your physical examination, your doctor may recommend further testing, such as blood work or imaging tests to determine the cause

MRIs and CT scans can help your medical team get a better view of the gland. A biopsy or a fine needle aspiration may also be recommended. This invasive test is used to examine a sample of the cells taken from your lesion under a microscope, and it is used to determine whether growths are benign or malignant. Salivary gland tumors can be benign or malignant, and it is essential to determine the tumor status in order to plan treatment.

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