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All You Need to Know About Salivary Gland Cancer

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A common sign that can be used to recognise salivary gland cancer is difficulty opening one’s mouth fully.

The human body has a variety of glands that perform numerous vital functions, some of the most important being in the oral cavity.

There are three types of salivary glands: The parotid, sublingual and submandibular. Cancer can develop in these glands just like other areas of the body. Of the three salivary glands, however, the parotid is the most common in which cancer may develop. Here’s what you need to know if you’re diagnosed with a parotid tumour.

Gland functions

Glands all perform tasks the human body needs to stay healthy. Some glands release substances like sweat, tears, saliva (as is the case with the salivary glands) or, in nursing mothers, breast milk. Other glands release hormones, and still others swell up as they help your immune system fend off colds and illnesses.

Parotid glands

These are the largest of the three salivary glands. They are located just in front of the ears. The majority of parotid tumours are benign, but they’re also where most malignant salivary tumours emerge.

Signs and symptoms

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Common signs and symptoms can be used to recognise salivary gland cancer. Here are some, all of which should prompt you to consult your physician if you suspect it:

  • Trouble swallowing;
  • Difficulty opening your mouth fully;
  • Facial numbness;
  • Muscle fatigue on one part of your face;
  • Swelling or a lump near the mouth, jaw, or neck;
  • Chronic pain around the parotid gland.

Treatment options

A malignant parotid tumour is often a serious medical condition that requires prompt treatment. Surgery is usually involved, but the treatment process depends on several factors — including the patient’s overall health and the size, type, and stage of the cancer.

Surgery could involve removing a portion or the entire gland. Neck lymph node removal is possible as well, if the cancer has spread to another part of the mouth or body.

Two other treatment options are radiation therapy and chemotherapy. Radiation therapy involves using an X-ray or similarly powerful source of energy to kill the cancerous cells. These beams are focused only on specific parts of the body and can be used after surgery or as a stand-alone option if surgery doesn’t suffice.

Chemotherapy, on the other hand, uses chemical-based drugs to kill the cancer cells. It’ll only be used if the salivary cancer is advanced enough that it has spread to other areas of the body. This approach isn’t typically used as a common treatment option for salivary cancer, though.

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Hearing a doctor diagnose you with a tumour of any kind is unsettling, so keeping yourself healthy is paramount. This starts with a nutritious meal, exercising and getting enough sleep every night. Never neglect a consistent oral health routine, too, brushing at least twice a day and flossing daily; and don’t forget your dental check-ups twice a year.

You may not be able to avoid a medical issue as complex as a parotid tumour, but you can optimise the gland’s defences by maintaining good overall health.

October 27, 2017

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