Risk Factors and Symptoms of Salivary Gland Cancer

Risk Factors

  • People who use both tobacco and alcohol are at greater risk of developing these cancers than people who use either tobacco or alcohol alone.
  • Infection with cancer-causing types of human papillomavirus (HPV), especially HPV type 16, affects particularly the tonsils or the base of the tongue. The incidence of oropharyngeal (mouth and part of the throat at the back of the mouth) cancers caused by HPV infection is increasing, while the incidence of these cancers related to other causes is falling. (National Cancer Institute).
  • Radiation exposure for non-cancerous reasons is a risk factor for salivary gland cancers
  • Occupational exposure to wood dust, asbestos and synthetic fabrics have been associated with cancers of the larynx or voice box, and nasopharyngeal region (part of the throat at the back of the nose). Industrial exposure to wood or nickel dust or formaldehyde is also a risk factor for cancers of the paranasal sinuses and nasal cavity.
  • Epstein-Barr virus is a risk factor for nasopharyngeal cancer and cancer of the salivary glands
  • Asian ancestry, particularly Chinese ancestry, is a risk factor for nasopharyngeal cancer.


The symptoms of salivary gland cancer may vary, depending on whether the facial nerves are affected or not. They can be similar to symptoms of non-cancerous conditions. The most common symptom is a painless lump in the jaw, cheek, mouth or neck. Other symptoms include:

  • pain in the mouth, ear, jaw, throat or neck that doesn’t go away
  • trouble opening the mouth widely (called trismus)
  • numbness in part of the face
  • drooping or weakness of the muscles on one side of the face
  • twitching of muscles on the face
  • problems swallowing and drooling
  • tearing in one eye
  • problems closing an eye
  • blood in the saliva
  • changes to the voice (Canadian Cancer Society)