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Should I see a salivary gland cancer specialist?

Men and women discussing salivary gland cancer

This page tells you about seeing a specialist for salivary gland cancer. You can find information about

 

A quick guide to what’s on this page

Should I see a salivary gland cancer specialist?

It can be very difficult for GPs to decide who to refer to a specialist. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has produced guidelines to help GPs decide who should be seen urgently by a specialist.

Urgent referral guidelines

According to the NICE guidelines, you should ideally get an appointment within 2 weeks for an urgent referral. The guidelines say you may need urgent referral to a specialist if you have

  • Swelling in your mouth that does not go away after 3 weeks
  • An unexplained lump in your neck that has changed in the previous 3 to 6 weeks
  • Unexplained swelling that does not go away in the glands under your ear or around your lower jaw
  • Unexplained pain on one side of your head or neck for more than 4 weeks, with earache for no apparent reason
  • Any other signs or symptoms affecting your mouth that can't be explained and have lasted for more than 6 weeks
  • Your doctor may also want to refer you to a dentist urgently if you have a loose tooth for more than 3 weeks, for no apparent reason.

Do bear in mind that some of the symptoms above can be caused by other less serious medical conditions. They don’t necessarily mean that you have cancer of the salivary gland.

If you are still worried

If you think your GP is not taking your symptoms as seriously as they should, you could print this page (and the symptoms page) and take it along to an appointment.

 

CR PDF Icon You can view and print the quick guides for all the pages in the About salivary gland cancer section.

 

 

Who should see a specialist

It can be very difficult for GPs to decide who may have a cancer and who may have something much more minor that will go away on its own.

With many symptoms, it is perfectly right that your GP should ask you to wait to see if they get better, or respond to treatment such as antibiotics. If GPs referred everyone who came to see them to a specialist immediately, the system would get jammed and people needing urgent appointments wouldn't be able to get them.

There are particular symptoms that mean your GP should refer you to a specialist straight away. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has produced guidelines for GPs to help them decide which patients need to be seen urgently by a specialist. These guidelines on referrals for head and neck cancers were revised in June 2005.

Seeing a specialist

While reading these guidelines, it is important to remember that

  • Salivary gland cancers are rare – around 500 people are diagnosed each year in the UK
  • A number of risk factors affect your chances of developing a salivary gland cancer
  • General symptoms, such as a lump in or around your mouth, jaw or neck are much more likely to be something less serious
 

UK guidelines

According to the NICE guidelines, you should ideally get an appointment within 2 weeks for an urgent referral for suspected cancer. The guidelines for GPs say that you may need urgent referral to a specialist for possible salivary gland cancer if you have

  • Swelling in your mouth that does not go away after 3 weeks
  • An unexplained lump in your neck that has changed in the previous 3 to 6 weeks
  • Unexplained swelling that does not go away in the glands under your ear or around your lower jaw
  • Unexplained pain on one side of your head or neck for more than 4 weeks, with earache for no apparent reason
  • Any other signs or symptoms affecting your mouth that can't be explained and have lasted for more than 6 weeks
  • Your doctor may also want to refer you to a dentist urgently if you have a loose tooth for more than 3 weeks, for no apparent reason.

Do bear in mind that some of the symptoms above can be caused by other less serious medical conditions. They do not necessarily mean that you have cancer of the salivary gland.

 

What to do if you are still worried

If you are concerned that your GP is not taking your symptoms as seriously as you think they should, you could print this page and take it along to an appointment. Ask your GP to talk it through with you and then you may be able to decide together whether you need to see a specialist and, if so, how soon.

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Updated: 24 June 2014