Cancer in the salivary glands: symptoms, diagnosis and treatment

Cancer of the salivary glands is rare, being most often identified during routine examinations or going to the dentist, in which changes in the mouth can be seen. This type of tumor can be perceived through some signs and symptoms, such as swelling or the appearance of a lump in the mouth, difficulty in swallowing and a feeling of weakness in the face, which may be more or less intense according to the affected salivary gland and extension of the tumor.

Although rare, cancer of the salivary glands is treated, requiring the removal of part or all of the affected salivary gland. Depending on the affected gland and the extent of the cancer, it may also be necessary to carry out chemo and radiotherapy sessions to eliminate tumor cells.

Symptoms of cancer in the salivary glands

The main symptoms that may indicate the development of cancer in the salivary glands include:

  • Swelling or lump in the mouth, neck or near the jaw;
  • Tingling or numbness in the face;
  • Feeling of weakness on one side of the face;
  • Difficulty swallowing;
  • Constant pain in some part of the mouth;
  • Difficulty opening your mouth completely.

When these symptoms appear and there is a suspicion of developing cancer, it is recommended to consult a head and neck surgeon or the general practitioner for diagnostic tests, such as MRI or CT scan, and diagnose the problem, starting treatment if necessary.

Main causes

Cancer in the salivary glands is caused by mutations in the DNA of the cells in the mouth, which begin to multiply in an unregulated manner and lead to the appearance of the tumor. However, it is not yet known why the mutation occurred, but there are some risk factors that can increase the chance of developing salivary gland cancer, such as smoking, frequent contact with chemicals or infection by the Epstein-Barr virus. , for example.

How the diagnosis is made

The initial diagnosis of cancer of the salivary glands is clinical, that is, the doctor assesses the presence of signs and symptoms that are indicative of cancer. Then, a biopsy or fine needle aspiration puncture is indicated, in which a small part of the observed alteration is collected, which is analyzed in the laboratory in order to identify the presence or absence of malignant cells.

In addition, imaging tests, such as computed tomography, radiography or magnetic resonance imaging, may be ordered to assess the extent of cancer, and ultrasound may also be indicated to differentiate the tumor from the salivary glands from inflammatory processes and other types of cancer. cancer.

Treatment for cancer of the salivary glands

Treatment for cancer in the salivary glands should be started as soon as possible after diagnosis, in a hospital specializing in oncology to prevent it from developing and spreading to other parts of the body, making healing difficult and life-threatening. Generally, the type of treatment varies according to the type of cancer, the affected salivary gland and the development of the tumor, and can be done with:

  • Surgery: it is the most used treatment and serves to remove as much of the tumor as possible. Thus, it may be necessary to remove only a portion of the gland or to remove the complete gland, as well as other structures that may be infected;
  • Radiotherapy: it is done with a machine that targets radiation to cancer cells, destroying them and reducing the size of the cancer;
  • Chemotherapy: consists of the injection of chemicals directly into the blood that eliminate cells that develop very quickly, such as tumor cells, for example.

These types of treatments can be used alone or in combination, with radiotherapy and chemotherapy often being used after surgery to eliminate cancer cells that may not have been completely removed.

In the most severe cases, in which it is necessary to remove more than the salivary gland, the doctor may recommend performing plastic surgery to reconstruct the removed structures, improving the aesthetic aspect, but also facilitating the patient to swallow, speak, chew or speak, for example .

How to avoid dry mouth during treatment

One of the most common symptoms during the treatment of cancer in the salivary glands is the appearance of dry mouth, however this problem can be relieved with some daily care such as brushing your teeth several times a day, drinking 2 liters of water throughout the day, avoiding very spicy foods and give preference to foods rich in water such as watermelon, for example.