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The salivary glands

Men and women discussing salivary gland cancer

This page is about the salivary glands. There is information about

 

A quick guide to what’s on this page

The salivary glands

There are two main types of salivary glands – the major and minor salivary glands.

The major salivary glands

We have 3 main pairs of major salivary glands. These are the

  • Parotid glands – just under the lobes of your ears
  • Sublingual glands – under your tongue
  • Submandibular glands – under each side of your jawbone

The minor salivary glands

We have over 600 smaller, minor salivary glands throughout the lining of the mouth and throat.

The salivary glands make spit (saliva). Saliva helps us to keep our mouth and throat moist and also helps us swallow and digest food. It also protects us against infections of the mouth and throat and protects our teeth.

 

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

 

 

The salivary glands

The salivary glands make spit (saliva). Saliva helps us to

  • Keep our mouth and throat moist
  • Swallow food
  • Digest food
  • Protect against infections in the mouth and throat
  • Protect our teeth

There are two main types of salivary glands, called the

Major salivary glands

We have 3 main pairs of salivary glands, the

  • Parotid glands – just under the lobes of your ears
  • Sublingual glands – under your tongue
  • Submandibular glands – under each side of your jawbone

Diagram showing the position of the salivary glands

Minor salivary glands

As well as the 3 major pairs of salivary glands we have over 600 smaller, minor salivary glands throughout the lining of the mouth and throat.

 

Salivary gland cancer

Most salivary gland cancers start in the parotid glands – around 8 in 10 salivary gland cancers start here (80%). Just over 1 in 10 (10%) start in the submandibular glands. The rest start in either the sublingual glands or the minor glands.

Salivary gland cancer is a rare cancer. It is much more common to have a non cancerous (benign) lump in these glands. Around 3 out of 4 tumours in the parotid gland (75%) are benign. And half (50%) of the tumours found in the submandibular glands are benign. Sublingual gland tumours are very rare, but are often cancer.

 

The cells of the salivary glands

There are a number of different types of cells in the salivary glands. Cancer can start in any of these cells. Your exact type of salivary gland cancer will depend on which cell type your cancer started in. You can read more about the different cells and the different types of salivary gland cancer in this section.

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Updated: 24 June 2014