Salivary Gland Cancer

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Symptoms & Diagnosis

Symptoms

Symptoms that might occur if you have a salivary gland tumor include:

  • A lump or ongoing pain in your face, neck, or mouth
  • A difference in the size or shape of your face or neck from one side to the other
  • Numbness or weakness somewhere in your face.

Other conditions besides tumors may cause these symptoms, too. If you have any of these symptoms, see your doctor for an evaluation.

Diagnosis

If your doctor thinks you might have a salivary gland tumor, the doctor will ask about your health history and give you a physical exam, with special attention to your salivary glands, mouth, and neck. The doctor may also check for numbness or weakness in your face.

Imaging studies can also help your doctor determine whether you have a tumor and whether it has spread. These include a Computed Tomography (CT) scan, Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scan, and Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scan.

If your doctor finds a tumor, the next step is to have a biopsy to remove tumor cells and check whether they are cancer, and if so, which type. There are two types of biopsies you may have:

  • Fine needle aspiration: Removing some cells and fluid from the tumor using a syringe.
  • Excisional biopsy: Making a small incision to remove a piece of the tumor.
  • In some cases, the doctor may go directly to the step of doing surgery to remove as much of the tumor as possible rather than removing only a small piece first for a biopsy.