Childhood Salivary Gland Tumors Treatment (PDQ®)

Last modified: 2018-01-10
Last downloaded: 2018-04-17

   

General Information About Childhood Salivary Gland Tumors

   

Salivary gland cancer is a rare disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the tissues of the salivary glands.

The salivary glands make saliva and release it into the mouth. Saliva has enzymes that help digest food and antibodies that help protect against infections of the mouth and throat.

There are 3 pairs of major salivary glands:

  • Parotid glands: These are the largest salivary glands and are found in front of and just below each ear. Most salivary gland tumors begin in this gland.
  • Sublingual glands: These glands are found under the tongue in the floor of the mouth.
  • Submandibular glands: These glands are found below the jawbone.
Anatomy of the salivary glands. The three main pairs of salivary glands are the parotid glands, the sublingual glands, and the submandibular glands.

Most salivary gland tumors in children are benign (not cancerous) and do not spread to other tissues. Some salivary gland tumors are malignant (cancer). Malignant tumors are more common in young children. The prognosis for salivary gland cancer in children is usually good.

Salivary gland cancer is a type of head and neck cancer.

  

A history of past treatment for cancer may increase the risk of salivary gland cancer.

Anything that increases your chance of getting a disease is called a risk factor. Having a risk factor does not mean that you will get cancer; not having risk factors doesn't mean that you will not get cancer. Talk with your child's doctor if you think your child may be at risk.

Risk factors for salivary gland cancer in children include past treatment for leukemia, including:

  

Signs and symptoms of salivary gland cancer include a lump near the ear, cheek, jaw, or lip, or inside the mouth.

These and other signs and symptoms may be caused by salivary gland cancer or by other conditions.

Check with your child's doctor if your child has any of the following:

  • A lump (usually painless) near the ear, cheek, jaw, or lip, or inside the mouth.
  • Fluid draining from the ear.
  • Trouble swallowing or opening the mouth widely.
  • Numbness or weakness in the face.
  • Pain in the face that does not go away.
  

Tests that examine the mouth and throat are used to detect (find) and diagnose salivary gland cancer.

The following tests and procedures may be used:

Computed tomography (CT) scan of the head and neck. The child lies on a table that slides through the CT scanner, which takes x-ray pictures of the inside of the head and neck.

Computed tomography (CT) scan of the head and neck. The child lies on a table that slides through the CT scanner, which takes x-ray pictures of the inside of the head and neck.

  • Physical exam and history: An exam of the body to check general signs of health, including checking for signs of disease, such as lumps or anything else that seems unusual. A history of the patient’s health habits and past illnesses and treatments will also be taken.
  • MRI (magnetic resonance imaging): A procedure that uses a magnet, radio waves, and a computer to make a series of detailed pictures of areas of the body, such as the head and neck. This procedure is also called nuclear magnetic resonance imaging (NMRI).
  • CT scan (CAT scan): A procedure that makes a series of detailed pictures of areas inside the body taken from different angles. The pictures are made by a computer linked to an x-ray machine. A dye may be injected into a vein or swallowed to help the organs or tissues show up more clearly. This procedure is also called computed tomography, computerized tomography, or computerized axial tomography.Computed tomography (CT) scan of the head and neck. The child lies on a table that slides through the CT scanner, which takes x-ray pictures of the inside of the head and neck.
  • PET scan (positron emission tomography scan): A procedure to find malignant tumor cells in the body. A small amount of radioactive glucose (sugar) is injected into a vein. The PET scanner rotates around the body and makes a picture of where glucose is being used in the body. Malignant tumor cells show up brighter in the picture because they are more active and take up more glucose than normal cells do.
  • Ultrasound exam: A procedure in which high-energy sound waves (ultrasound) are bounced off internal tissues or organs and make echoes. The echoes form a picture of body tissues called a sonogram. The picture can be printed to be looked at later.
  • Biopsy : The removal of cells or tissues so they can be viewed under a microscope by a pathologist to check for signs of cancer.

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Stages of Childhood Salivary Gland Cancer

The process used to find out if cancer has spread from the salivary glands to nearby areas or to other parts of the body is called staging. There is no standard system for staging childhood salivary gland cancer. The results of the tests and procedures done to diagnose salivary gland cancer are used to help make decisions about treatment.


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Treatment Option Overview

  

There are different types of treatment for children with salivary gland cancer.

Some treatments are standard (the currently used treatment), and some are being tested in clinical trials. A treatment clinical trial is a research study meant to help improve current treatments or obtain information on new treatments for patients with cancer. When clinical trials show that a new treatment is better than the standard treatment, the new treatment may become the standard treatment.

Because cancer in children is rare, taking part in a clinical trial should be considered. Some clinical trials are open only to patients who have not started treatment.

  

Children with salivary gland cancer should have their treatment planned by a team of doctors who are experts in treating childhood cancer.

Treatment will be overseen by a pediatric oncologist, a doctor who specializes in treating children with cancer. The pediatric oncologist works with other pediatric health professionals who are experts in treating children with cancer and who specialize in certain areas of medicine. This may include the following specialists and others:

  

Two types of standard treatment are used:

Surgery 

Surgery to remove the tumor is the most common treatment for benign and malignant childhood salivary gland cancer.

Radiation therapy 

Radiation therapy is a cancer treatment that uses high-energy x-rays or other types of radiation to kill cancer cells or keep them from growing. There are two types of radiation therapy:

Radiation therapy may be given if the tumor is likely to spread.

  

New types of treatment are being tested in clinical trials.

This summary section describes treatments that are being studied in clinical trials. It may not mention every new treatment being studied. Information about clinical trials is available from the NCI website.

Targeted therapy 

Targeted therapy is a type of treatment that uses drugs or other substances to attack cancer cells. Targeted therapies usually cause less harm to normal cells than chemotherapy or radiation therapy do.

Targeted therapy is being studied for the treatment of childhood salivary gland cancer that has recurred (come back).

  

Treatment for childhood salivary gland cancer may cause side effects.

For information about side effects that begin during treatment for cancer, see our Side Effects page.

  

Patients may want to think about taking part in a clinical trial.

For some patients, taking part in a clinical trial may be the best treatment choice. Clinical trials are part of the cancer research process. Clinical trials are done to find out if new cancer treatments are safe and effective or better than the standard treatment.

Many of today's standard treatments for cancer are based on earlier clinical trials. Patients who take part in a clinical trial may receive the standard treatment or be among the first to receive a new treatment.

Patients who take part in clinical trials also help improve the way cancer will be treated in the future. Even when clinical trials do not lead to effective new treatments, they often answer important questions and help move research forward.

  

Patients can enter clinical trials before, during, or after starting their cancer treatment.

Some clinical trials only include patients who have not yet received treatment. Other trials test treatments for patients whose cancer has not gotten better. There are also clinical trials that test new ways to stop cancer from recurring (coming back) or reduce the side effects of cancer treatment.

Clinical trials are taking place in many parts of the country. Information about clinical trials supported by NCI can be found on NCI’s clinical trials search webpage. Clinical trials supported by other organizations can be found on the ClinicalTrials.gov website.

  

Follow-up tests may be needed.

Some of the tests that were done to diagnose the cancer or to find out the stage of the cancer may be repeated. Some tests will be repeated in order to see how well the treatment is working. Decisions about whether to continue, change, or stop treatment may be based on the results of these tests.

Some of the tests will continue to be done from time to time after treatment has ended. The results of these tests can show if your child's condition has changed or if the cancer has recurred (come back). These tests are sometimes called follow-up tests or check-ups.


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Treatment Options for Childhood Salivary Gland Cancer

For information about the treatments listed below, see the Treatment Option Overview section.

Newly Diagnosed Childhood Salivary Gland Cancer

Treatment of newly diagnosedsalivary gland cancer in children may include the following:

Use our clinical trial search to find NCI-supported cancer clinical trials that are accepting patients. You can search for trials based on the type of cancer, the age of the patient, and where the trials are being done. General information about clinical trials is also available.

Recurrent Childhood Salivary Gland Cancer

Treatment of recurrentsalivary gland cancer in children may include the following:

Use our clinical trial search to find NCI-supported cancer clinical trials that are accepting patients. You can search for trials based on the type of cancer, the age of the patient, and where the trials are being done. General information about clinical trials is also available.


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To Learn More About Childhood Salivary Gland Cancer

For more information from the National Cancer Institute about salivary gland cancer, see the following:

For more childhood cancer information and other general cancer resources, see the following:


Back to Top Source: The National Cancer Institute's Physician Data Query (PDQ®) Cancer Information Summaries ( http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq)