The human body has a variety of glands that perform numerous vital functions, some of the most important being in the oral cavity. According to Mayo Clinic, there are three types of salivary glands: the parotid, sublingual and submandibular. Cancer can develop in these glands just like it can in the lungs or kidneys. Of the three salivary glands, however, the parotid is the most common for cancer to develop in. Here's what you need to know if you're diagnosed with a parotid tumor.
Glands all perform tasks the human body needs to stay healthy, as explained by the Nemours Foundation. 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.
These are the largest of the three salivary glands. Located just in front of the ears, states the American Cancer Society, the parotids play host to approximately seven out of 10 salivary tumors when they start. The majority of parotid tumors are benign, but they're also where most malignant salivary tumors emerge.
Signs and Symptoms
Common signs and symptoms can be used to recognize 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 to its full width
- 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 itself
A malignant parotid tumor is often a serious medical condition that requires prompt treatment. Surgery is usually involved, suggests Mayo Clinic, 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 standalone 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.
Hearing a doctor diagnose you with a tumor 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. Consider rinsing with an antiseptic mouthwash like Colgate Total® Mouthwash for Gum Health for added protection in your mouth's soft tissue, and don't forget your dental checkups twice a year. You may not be able to avoid a medical issue as complex as a parotid tumor, but you can optimize the gland's defenses by maintaining good overall health.