Salivary Gland Cancer: Symptoms and Signs

Approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 04/2014

ON THIS PAGE: You will find out more about body changes and other things that can signal a problem that may need medical care. To see other pages, use the menu on the side of your screen.

People with salivary gland cancer may experience the following symptoms or signs. Sometimes, people with salivary gland cancer do not show any of these symptoms. Or, these symptoms may be caused by a medical condition that is not cancer.

  • A lump on the face, neck, or mouth that is usually painless
  • Numbness in the face
  • Inability to move some facial muscles, especially if the muscle on one side of the face stops moving and the area affected slowly expands. This is known as progressive facial muscle paralysis.
  • Pain or swelling in the face, chin, jawbone area, or neck
  • A difference between the size and/or shape of the left and right sides of the face or neck

If you are concerned about one or more of the symptoms or signs on this list, talk with a doctor and/or dentist right away, especially if they are persistent or get worse. Your doctor will ask how long and how often you’ve been experiencing the symptom(s), in addition to other questions. This is to help find out the cause of the problem, called a diagnosis. When detected early, cancer of the head and neck have a much better chance of cure.

Because many of the symptoms listed above can also be caused by other noncancerous health conditions, it is always important to receive regular health and dental screenings, especially for those who routinely drink alcohol or use tobacco products or have used them in the past. In fact, people who use alcohol and tobacco should receive a general screening examination at least once a year. This is a simple, quick procedure in which the doctor looks in the nose, mouth, and throat for abnormalities and feels for lumps in the neck. If anything unusual is found, the doctor will recommend a more extensive examination using one or more of the diagnostic procedures mentioned under the Diagnosis section.

If cancer is diagnosed, relieving symptoms remains an important part of cancer care and treatment. This may also be called symptom management, palliative care, or supportive care. Be sure to talk with your health care team about symptoms you experience, including any new symptoms or a change in symptoms.

The next section helps explain what tests and scans may be needed to learn more about the cause of the symptoms. Use the menu on the side of your screen to select Diagnosis, or you can select another section, to continue reading this guide.