Diagnosis

The diagnosis phase can be difficult and overwhelming. During this phase, further testing will be necessary to confirm a diagnosis and determine the best course of treatment. Patients can expect their doctor to have a discussion with them about the risks, benefits, and alternatives to each of the following approaches.

Imaging

Imaging scans, also known as radiological studies, provide the doctor with an inside view of the body. Imaging of the head and neck will be required to determine the extent as well as the behaviour of a growth, and is a vital step prior to treatment of any tumour in the oral salivary glands. The most common initial imaging tests used are CT and MRI scans. A more advanced imaging study called a PET/CT may also be performed to evaluate if the cancer has spread to other sites in the body, as well as to determine if lymph nodes in the neck are likely to harbour cancer cells.

Biopsy

A biopsy is the removal of a small piece of tissue from the tumour to examine under a microscope and see if it is cancerous. Prior to treatment, patients may need a biopsy of a suspicious lump that has arisen under the lining of their mouth or throat (or mass in the neck). There are a few different ways to perform this biopsy, but the most common and easiest approach is a fine needle aspiration (FNA) biopsy, in which a tiny needle is placed into the tumour and some cells are drawn out through a syringe.

In some cases, imaging and a biopsy may not be necessary. Instead, patients may proceed directly to surgery for both diagnosis and treatment of an oral salivary gland tumour. This approach is more common when cancer is not suspected. Patients can expect their surgeon to have a discussion with them about the risks, benefits, and alternatives to each approach.