Salivary Gland Cancer

Malignant salivary gland tumors, or salivary gland cancer, is a form of cancer that can occur in any of the glands in the mouth, throat or neck. Healthy salivary glands consist of several types of cells, and malignant or cancerous growths can occur in any of these cells. The salivary glands are responsible for producing saliva, which the body needs to keep the mouth moist and help maintain healthy digestion. The three major pairs of salivary glands are located behind and under the jaw and are called the submandibular, sublingual and parotid. Hundreds more minor salivary glands reside throughout the throat, mouth, lips, and cheeks.

Although salivary gland cancer is rare, it is most likely to occur in the parotid glands, which are closest to the ears. This common type of salivary gland cancer is called a mucoepidermoid carcinoma, and it generally is considered to be a low-grade cancer that doesn't spread quickly. Salivary gland cancers are graded on a scale of 1 to 3 (with one being the lowest) based on how abnormal the cells appear. This grade also is used as an indicator of how quickly the malignancy may grow or spread.


Outstanding patient care is the primary focus of the UAB Medicine Head and Neck Oncology program. As a national leader in head and neck cancer treatment, we offer a number of surgical and nonsurgical treatment options for both malignant (cancerous) and benign (non-cancerous) tumors. We use a team approach that combines the expertise of head and neck surgeons; ear, nose, and throat physicians (otolaryngologists); medical and radiation oncologists; speech and swallowing specialists; dentists and prosthetic dentists; nutritionists; speech and language pathologists; and supportive care professionals.

A group of specialists called a tumor board meets weekly to discuss treatment options for patients with new and recurring cases of oral cancer. The board considers the latest clinical trials, immunotherapy (treatments that focus on the body’s immune system), and the most advanced surgical techniques in designing a treatment plan for each individual patient. And for the convenience of our patients, especially those who live far away, our Virtual Multidisciplinary Clinic enables patients to have much of their initial assessment done in one day, often avoiding multiple visits to different doctors.






UAB is an active participant in research and clinical trials for salivary gland cancer. We encourage you to speak to your physician about research and clinical trial options and browse the link below for more information.

View Clinical Trials