Signs & Symptoms

Unlike other cancers of the head and neck, oral salivary gland cancers can typically be seen or felt as an abnormality by a patient, dentist, or doctor. Symptoms to watch for include:

  • A lump or bump in the mouth: This is the most common way for an oral salivary gland cancer to present. This is different from the much more common squamous cell carcinomas that present with sores and patches in the mouth. The minor salivary glands are located under the outer-most lining of the mouth, and are called submucosal masses.
  • Painful sores or ulcers in the mouth: Oral salivary gland cancer can sometimes grow and become a painful sore or ulcer in the mouth that doesn’t heal after a few weeks.
  • Numbness (i.e. in the lower teeth or lower lip/chin area): This means that the cancer cells have invaded the nerves that control the ability to feel.
  • Recurrent bleeding from the mouth: Growths in the mouth that are cancer tend to bleed easily when accidentally scraped while brushing teeth or eating certain foods.
  • Loose teeth or dentures that don’t fit correctly: This occurs if the tumor invades the tooth sockets or the bones in which the teeth are rooted.
  • Difficulty opening the mouth (trismus): This can happen if the cancer invades into any of the muscles that help to open and close the mouth.
  • Pain or difficulty with swallowing: This can happen if a tumour becomes so large that it interferes with eating, or invades the muscles and nerves that are used for swallowing.

In rare cases, the first sign of oral salivary gland cancer could be a lump in the neck. This means that the tumour has spread to lymph nodes in the neck. However, in oral salivary gland cancers, the primary cancer in the mouth is usually noticed before it reaches the lymph nodes.

It is important to note that a patient could have one or more of these symptoms and not have oral salivary gland cancer. There are several non-cancerous causes of the same symptoms. That’s why it’s especially important to seek medical advice from a ENT specialist.