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Most tumours that develop in the salivary glands are non-cancerous (benign).
Salivary gland cancer is rare type of head and neck cancer. It can affect people of any age, but is more common in people aged over 50. It is more common in women than men.
Salivary gland cancers can be made up of different cell types.
We have more information on the salivary glands.
Salivary gland cancer is a rare cancer. The exact causes are not known.
Certain things (risk factors) can increase your risk of developing it. Having a risk factor does not mean you will definitely develop salivary gland cancer. And if you do not have any risk factors, it does not mean you will not get cancer.
Your risk of developing salivary gland cancer may be higher if you have had:
- radiotherapy for Hodgkin lymphoma
- radiotherapy to the head and neck area as a child.
Your risk of getting salivary gland cancer increases as you get older.
We have general information about the causes and risk factors of head and neck cancer.
You usually start by seeing your GP. They will examine your mouth closely.
They will refer you to a hospital specialist if:
- they think that your symptoms could be caused by cancer
- they are not sure what the problem is.
The specialist doctor will ask you about your symptoms and general health. They will check your mouth using a small mirror and light. They will also examine the area where the lump is and arrange for you to have some tests.
An ultrasound uses soundwaves to produce a picture of your head or neck on a computer screen. The scan is painless and only takes a few minutes. The doctor will put some gel on to your face or neck and move a small device which produces sound waves over the area.
Fine needle aspiration (FNA)
The results of your tests helps your doctors find out more about the size and position of the cancer and whether it has spread. This is called staging.
A doctor decides the grade of the cancer by how the cancer cells look under the microscope. This gives an idea of how quickly the cancer might grow or spread.
Knowing the stage and grade helps your doctors plan the best treatment for you.
A team of specialists will meet to discuss the best possible treatment for you. This is called a multidisciplinary team (MDT).
Your cancer doctor or specialist nurse will explain the different treatments and their side effects. They will also talk to you about things to consider when making treatment decisions.
We have more information about
- how different treatments are used to treat salivary gland cancer
- what will happen before your treatment and how to prepare.
Treatment for salivary gland cancer may include:
You may have some treatments as part of a clinical trial.
You have regular follow-up appointments after treatment. These may continue for several years. You may also have regular follow-up appointments with a speech and language therapist (SLT), dietitian, restorative dentist and dental hygienist.
If you have any problems or notice new symptoms between appointments, let your doctor know as soon as possible.
Sex life and fertility
Well-being and recovery
Even if you already have a healthy lifestyle, you may choose to make some positive lifestyle changes after treatment.
Making small changes to the way you live such as eating well and keeping active can improve your health and well-being and help your body recover.
It can be difficult to eat well after treatment for head and neck cancer, but your dietitian can help you.
Your feelings after salivary gland cancer treatment
For some people, it takes several months to recover from treatment. It can be hard to cope if treatment has changed your appearance, voice or how you eat and drink. It is common to feel overwhelmed by different feelings.
There are national support groups that you may find helpful:
You may also want to talk to our cancer support specialists. Call the Macmillan Support Line free on 0808 808 00 00. If you are finding it difficult to talk, our Online Community is also a good place to meet people who may be in a similar situation.
Below is a sample of the sources used in our salivary gland cancer information. If you would like more information about the sources we use, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
British Association of Head and Neck Oncologists. Head and Neck Cancer: United Kingdom National Multidisciplinary Guidelines. 2016. Available from: https://www.bahno.org.uk/_userfiles/pages/files/ukheadandcancerguidelines2016.pdf (accessed September 2018).
This information has been written, revised and edited by Macmillan Cancer Support’s Cancer Information Development team. It has been reviewed by expert medical and health professionals and people living with cancer. It has been approved by Senior Medical Editor, Dr Chris Alcock, Consultant Clinical Oncologist.
Our cancer information has been awarded the PIF TICK. Created by the Patient Information Forum, this quality mark shows we meet PIF’s 10 criteria for trustworthy health information.