Salivary gland tumors are abnormal cells growing in the salivary gland or in the ducts that drain the glands.
Salivary gland tumors can be noncancerous or cancerous. Although most salivary gland tumors are benign, some are malignant. It’s also possible for benign tumors to become malignant over time if left untreated.
Malignant salivary gland tumors are relatively rare, making up only six percent of head and neck cancers. The most common type of salivary gland tumor is a slow-growing benign tumor in the parotid gland.
Most benign and malignant salivary gland tumors manifest as a firm, typically painless mass or swelling in one of the salivary glands. However, malignant tumors may invade nerves, causing localized or regional pain, numbness, paresthesia, causalgia, or a loss of motor function.
If the salivary gland tumor is benign, surgical removal may be recommended to prevent the tumor from becoming malignant over time. A benign tumor in the parotid gland can be removed using a surgical procedure called a partial superficial parotidectomy.
Surgery is the main form of treatment for removing malignant tumors. Small- or medium-sized malignant tumors may be removed using partial superficial parotidectomy, but most require a more extensive surgery based on their location. Surgery can be performed in conjunction with the use of radiation therapy or chemotherapy if the disease has spread beyond the salivary glands.