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Salivary Gland Cancer

Causes of Salivary Gland Cancer

If you’ve been told you have a salivary gland cancer, you probably want to know what caused it. The short answer is that we don’t know. While most cancers in the head and neck are caused by drinking excess alcohol and smoking, salivary gland cancers do not seem to be associated with these bad habits. In most cases of salivary gland cancer, there is no clear cause; however, one factor that probably does increase the risk of developing a salivary gland cancer is radiation. There are a few other causes listed below that might be related as well, but the medical community has not reached agreement about them.

  • Radiation: Studies following survivors of the atomic bomb explosions in Hiroshima and Nagasaki have shown quite a significant increased risk for developing malignant salivary gland carcinomas after exposure to high levels of radiation. The risk is up to eleven times higher than in people not exposed to such a high level of radiation. There is also some evidence that patients treated with radiation for other tumors in the region of the head and neck are at an increased risk of developing malignant tumors in the salivary glands.

Recent studies have shown that patients who receive radioactive iodine (i.e., I-131) are also at increased risk of developing salivary gland cancers. Dental X-rays may increase the risk of a malignant salivary gland tumor, as may exposure to ultraviolet radiation. Currently, there does not seem to be any support for microwaves or cellular telephones being associated with risks of cancer of the salivary glands.6, Johansen C, Boice Jr JD, McLaughlin JK, Olsen JH. Cellular telephones and cancer—a nationwide cohort study in Denmark. Journal of the National Cancer Institute 2001;93:203-7.7Auvinen A, Hietanen M, Luukkonen R, Koskela RS. Brain tumors and salivary gland cancers among cellular telephone users. Epidemiology 2002;13:356.

  • Viruses: While a few viruses have been said to possibly increase the risk of salivary gland cancer, the evidence is not overwhelming. Viruses such as HIV-1, HPV types 16 and 18, polyomavirus and Epstein-Barr might be related.8, Atula T, Grenman R, Klemi P et al (1998) Human papillomavirus, Epstein-Barr virus, human herpesvirus 8 and human cytomegalovirus involvement in salivary gland tumours. Oral Oncol 34:391–395.9Sun EC, Curtis R, Melbye M et al (1999) Salivary gland cancer in the United States. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev 8:1095–1100.
  • Workplace environment: Salivary gland cancer may be associated with substances found in some workplaces, including asbestos, rubber, nickel and various chemicals. Those who work in manufacturing, plumbing, hairdressing and the auto industry may be at increased risk.9, Sun EC, Curtis R, Melbye M et al (1999) Salivary gland cancer in the United States. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev 8:1095–1100.10Horn-Ross PL, Ljung BM, Morrow M. Environmental factors and the risk of salivary gland cancer. Epidemiology 1997:414-9.
  • Hormones: There is ongoing research as to whether hormone receptors are present in certain salivary gland cancers and how they might relate to cancer (as in breast cancer). However, the information is conflicting, and researchers don’t have clear information on this yet.
References

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4 Holm LE, Hall P, Wiklund K, et al. Cancer risk after iodine-131 therapy for hyperthyroidism. Journal of the National Cancer Institute 1991;83:1072-7.

5 Hall P, Holm L, Lundell G, et al. Cancer risks in thyroid cancer patients. British Journal of Cancer 1991;64:159.

6 Johansen C, Boice Jr JD, McLaughlin JK, Olsen JH. Cellular telephones and cancer—a nationwide cohort study in Denmark. Journal of the National Cancer Institute 2001;93:203-7.

7 Auvinen A, Hietanen M, Luukkonen R, Koskela RS. Brain tumors and salivary gland cancers among cellular telephone users. Epidemiology 2002;13:356.

8 Atula T, Grenman R, Klemi P et al (1998) Human papillomavirus, Epstein-Barr virus, human herpesvirus 8 and human cytomegalovirus involvement in salivary gland tumours. Oral Oncol 34:391–395.

9 Sun EC, Curtis R, Melbye M et al (1999) Salivary gland cancer in the United States. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev 8:1095–1100.

10 Horn-Ross PL, Ljung BM, Morrow M. Environmental factors and the risk of salivary gland cancer. Epidemiology 1997:414-9.

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19 Agulnik M, McGann CF, Mittal BB, Godon SC, Epstein JB. Management of salivary gland malignancies: current and developing therapies. Oncol Rev (2008) 2:86–94.

20 Eveson JW, Auclair PL, Gnepp DR, et al. Tumors of the salivary glands: introduction. In: Barnes EL, Eveson JW, Reichart P, Sidransky D, editors. World Health Organization classification of tumours: pathology & genetics. Head and neck tumours. Lyon: IARCPress; 2005.

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30 Referenced with permission from The NCCN Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology (NCCN Guidelines®) for Head and Neck Cancers V.2.2014. © National Comprehensive Cancer Network, Inc 2014. All rights reserved. Accessed June 18, 2014. To view the most recent and complete version of the guideline, go online to www.NCCN.org. NATIONAL COMPREHENSIVE CANCER NETWORK®, NCCN®, NCCN GUIDELINES®, and all other NCCN Content are trademarks owned by the National Comprehensive Cancer Network, Inc.