In order to begin to understand oral salivary gland cancer, it helps to understand the location, function, and anatomy of the salivary glands. In the head and neck, there are two main categories of salivary glands: major salivary glands (parotid, submandibular, and sublingual glands) and minor salivary glands. The minor salivary glands are much smaller than the major salivary glands. They are not surrounded by envelopes and do not have their own saliva-carrying tubes or ducts.

There are thousands of minor salivary glands in the mouth and throat, but there is a high concentration of them that are located at the junction of the hard and soft palate on the roof of the mouth, near the lips, and along the lining inside the cheeks. There are also minor salivary glands in the tongue, and down into the throat.