After diagnosing a patient with oral salivary gland cancer, a doctor will need to determine what type of cancer it is, as well as the grade of the tumour (i.e. the risk level) based on a biopsy or pathology after surgery. It is important to note that oral salivary gland cancers can be difficult to diagnose. If a doctor is having a hard time determining what type of cancer it is, he or she might ask for a second opinion and send a portion of the tumour off to a specialist in head and neck pathology who deals more frequently with these types of tumours.


Below are the five most common types of oral salivary gland cancer:

  • Mucoepidermoid carcinoma: This is the most common type of oral salivary gland cancer (35%). Prognosis for this cancer is highly dependent on the grade of the cancer with low grade having a relatively good prognosis after complete surgical removal.
  • Acinic cell carcinoma: This is the second most common type of oral salivary gland cancer, and similar to mucoepidermoid carcinoma, prognosis is closely associated with tumour grade.
  • Adenoid cystic carcinoma: This is a slow growing cancer that has a tendency to spread along nerves (perineural spread). While the immediate prognosis for this cancer can be good, it carries a high risk of future recurrence.
  • Adenocarcinoma, not otherwise specified: Like the above mentioned oral salivary tumours, this tumor can be low, intermediate, or high grade. The higher the grade of adenocarcinoma, the more likely it is to spread to lymph nodes in the neck or to other sites in the body, requiring additional treatment.
  • Carcinoma ex pleomorphic adenoma: This is usually a high grade tumour and tends to progress rapidly, though low-grade variants do exist. Low-grade carcinoma ex pleomorphic adenoma is rare, and may be mistaken for a benign, cellular pleomorphic adenoma. Many patients with carcinoma ex pleomorphic adenoma have a history of a benign growth (pleomorphic adenoma) that then rapidly grows in size. These tumours require multiple treatment modalities, including both surgery and radiation treatment and sometimes chemotherapy.

If a specific cancer diagnosis is not listed above, please click “Other Types of Cancer” to see more possible oral salivary gland cancer types.

Other types of oral salivary gland cancer

  • Epithelial-myoepithelial carcinoma
  • Clear cell carcinoma
  • Basal cell adenocarcinoma
  • Sebaceous carcinoma
  • Oncocytic carcinoma
  • Salivary duct carcinoma
  • Myoepithelial carcinoma
  • Carcinosarcoma
  • Small cell carcinoma
  • Large cell carcinoma
  • Lymphoepithelial carcinoma
  • Sialoblastoma
  • Cystadenocarcinoma
  • Mucinous adenocarcinoma
  • Polymorphous adenocarcinoma
  • Lymphoma (diffuse large B cell & MALT)