Tumors in the Parotid Glands

by Sam Malone


Parotid glands tumors are also commonly known as salivary gland tumors. These are abnormal cell growths in the salivary glands. The salivary glands produce saliva, which is vital for the process of chewing, swallowing, and digestion. Saliva also helps keep the mouth clean by clearing out the bacteria. The parotid glands are the largest of the three pairs of salivary glands in the mouth. A tumor in the salivary glands may cause a swelling, but a swelling in the mouth may not necessarily mean that you have a tumor.

Causes

Tumors in the parotid glands are very rare; however, they could occur due to several reasons. Some of the causes of salivary gland tumors include:

  • Invasive surgery such as those in the abdomen
  • Infections in the salivary gland or anywhere else in the body
  • Liver cirrhosis
  • Cancers in any other part of the body
  • Serious illnesses such as Sjorgen syndrome or sarcoidosis
  • Stones in the salivary duct

Salivary gland tumors are often noncancerous. However, sometimes, they could be malignant. These tumors are usually slow-growing and are located somewhere under the jaw.

Symptoms

Usually, the first symptom of tumors in the parotid gland is the presence of painless swelling in the mouth. The salivary gland becomes swollen, but remains firm. The swelling increases very gradually. You may also feel numbness in one part of your face. It may get difficult for you to move that side of your face. This is usually known as nerve palsy. You may also experience difficulty in chewing and swallowing. If the salivary glands are severely affected, they may no longer be able to produce the adequate amount of saliva required to chew and swallow the food properly.

Diagnosis

To diagnose tumors in the parotid glands, the doctor first performs a detailed physical examination. The doctor feels for swelling behind the ears or near the throat. Such a swelling indicates an infection or inflammation of the salivary glands.

Though this is a basic test, doctors usually recommend further tests to screen for tumors and cancers in the salivary glands. Some of these diagnostic tests include the following.

  • Imaging tests: Doctors recommend tests such as X-rays and CT scans to get a closer and detailed look at the salivary glands. You may also need to get an MRI to check for infection, stones, or any other obstruction of the salivary ducts.
  • Biopsy: A biopsy can help identify unusual growths or infections in the salivary glands. A biopsy of an unusual mass in the salivary glands could also indicate whether the tumor is malignant.

Treatment of Tumors in the Parotid Gland

Tumors in the parotid glands can be removed using a surgery. The salivary gland may have to be completely removed if the tumor is malignant and cancerous. If the tumor is located in a high risk area, the doctor may recommend chemotherapy to reduce the size of the tumor. Chemotherapy may also be used when the cancer has spread beyond the salivary glands and has become difficult to treat or operate upon.

Cancerous tumors often come with complications. In case of metastasis, surgery is usually ruled out. If the tumor is growing on the salivary gland and pressing a nerve, it can injure the nerve and cause nervous palsy, paralyzing part of the face. Therefore, it is important to contact the doctor as soon as you experience pain while chewing or notice a swelling or a lump in your mouth.

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