Exactly What is Salivary Gland Cancer

The untimely death of Beastie Boy Adam Yauch in 2012 from Salivary Gland Cancer raised a lot of questions about exactly what type of cancer this was. The singer had battled it for three years. Where is the salivary gland and what exactly is Savilary Gland Cancer?

The salivary gland is not just one gland; it is actually three pairs of glands. The job of the salivary glands is to make saliva and release it into the mouth. Saliva helps in the digestion of food and also against infections. It is the moistness that most people feel in their mouth and throat.

The three pairs of main salivary glands are all located in the head. The parotid glands are located near the ears, a little forward and below; the sublingual glands are located underneath the tongue and the submandibular are below the jawbone. The three major pairs are not the only salivary glands however, there are hundreds of small glands located within the mouth, nose and throat. salivary gland

Salivary gland cancer is not a common form of cancer. Most often when tumors are found on or near the glands they are not cancerous. When they are cancerous, one of the dangers in the lymph glands which are located nearby. The lymph glands are spread throughout the body and if the cancer moves into the lymph system, it is much more dangerous and the outcome is much less certain.

According to the National Cancer Institute, signs of salivary gland cancer include:

* A lump, most often with no pain involved, near or on the ear, cheek, jaw, lip, or inside the mouth
* Excretions from the ear
* Difficulty swallowing or opening the mouth to its fullest extent
* Lack of feeling or weakness in the face
* Continually experiencing pain in the face over an extended period of time

All of these symptoms however, can be indicative of a variety of medical issues not just salivary gland cancer. Some factors can increase the risk of developing salivary gland cancer. The  risk factors increases as you age, if you have been exposed to certain substances at work and if you have received radiation to the neck or head. Among the substances that have a suspected link to this form of cancer are sawdust, pesticides, some industrial solvents, certain metals and possibly even hairspray and hair dye.

While there is no definitive cause or cure for salivary gland cancer, avoiding exposure to as many of the possible irritants as possible is always advisable. More than just one type of cancer cell grows on the salivary glands which makes finding a cure more difficult.

Photo credit: “Illu quiz hn 02”. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Illu_quiz_hn_02.jpg#/media/File:Illu_quiz_hn_02.jpg

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