Certain factors, such as tobacco use, alcohol consumption, and exposure, may increase a person’s risk of salivary gland cancer. Avoiding these factors may help prevent it.

Salivary gland cancer is a rare type of cancer. However, experts need to conduct more research into its causes, risk factors, and how to help prevent it.

There are several salivary glands, including:

  • Parotid glands: These are the most prominent salivary glands that extend from in front of the ears to below each ear. They are the site of most major salivary gland tumors.
  • Sublingual glands: These sit on the floor of the mouth under the tongue.
  • Submandibular glands: These sit below the jawbone.
  • Minor salivary glands: There are hundreds of these in the mouth, nose, and back of the throat.

A lump on any of these glands may cause a person concern. However, the majority of salivary gland tumors in adults are not cancerous and do not spread from their original site.

This article discusses salivary gland cancer prevention, whether it is possible, and what science knows about its possible causes and risk factors.

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According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), experts need to conduct more research into the causes of most salivary gland cancers before they can determine how to help prevent them.

A 2017 study of salivary gland cancer risk factors in Canada concluded that their rarity explains the limited knowledge of their causes.

Despite the limited number of salivary gland cancer studies, research has highlighted a few factors that may have links to this type of cancer. They also point toward potential ways to reduce the risk. These factors include avoiding tobacco use and avoiding exposure to certain infections and workplace chemicals.

Tobacco use can cause a range of serious conditions, including cancers. A Warthin tumor is a noncancerous salivary gland tumor. An earlier study — but the largest to date, involving 459 people with parotid gland tumors and 1,265 people without — found that the following increased a person’s risk of a Warthin tumor:

  • smoking at an earlier age
  • smoking for longer
  • smoking more packs of cigarettes

A person who has smoked a cigarette had a much higher risk of developing a Warthin tumor than a nonsmoker.

It is important to note that this study was small and points to a need for more research.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), at least 70 of tobacco smoke’s 7,000 chemicals can cause cancer in humans and animals.

The use of any tobacco products, including chewing tobacco, can increase a person’s risk of oral cancer. This is one reason why people believe it may also lead to an increased risk of salivary gland cancer and other types of cancer.

Several types of viruses have possible links with a higher risk of salivary gland cancer. These include the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), human papillomavirus (HPV), and HIV.


This is a herpes virus linked to mononucleosis, or mono. A 2017 review of 19 studies found that 44.2% of the participants in America had both EBV and salivary gland cancer. In Asia, this number was much higher, at 70%. In Europe, the prevalence of EBV and salivary gland cancer was 11.8%. These numbers imply, but do not prove or explain, a connection.

EBV can travel in bodily fluids, including semen, blood, and saliva. If a person has EBV, they should avoid the following:

  • kissing
  • sharing food and drinks
  • sharing cups, utensils, or toothbrushes

Using condoms or other barrier methods during sexual activity may also help prevent transmission.


Some research indicates a possible connection between HPV and a type of parotid cancer called squamous cell carcinoma.

However, other studies found the connection between HPV and salivary gland tumors may not be present or may be weak. Experts need to conduct more research into this possible link.

HPV vaccines are available. The CDC recommends the vaccine for all people ages 11–12 years old. They also recommend anyone under the age of 26 years old who has not received the vaccination get it to help prevent HPV and the complications related to it, including some cancers.


HIV weakens the immune system, increasing a person’s risk of several health problems.

According to a 2011 review, one of these health problems may be a type of salivary gland tumor called lymphoepithelial carcinoma. However, antiretroviral therapy can help keep the viral load low and reduce the risk of health complications.

Exposure to certain radioactive substances in the workplace might increase a person’s risk of salivary gland cancer.

People who work with the following chemicals and substances may also be at a higher risk of developing certain cancers, such as salivary gland cancer:

  • nickel alloy dust
  • silica dust
  • asbestos mining
  • rubber product manufacture
  • sawdust in some types of woodworking
  • pesticides
  • chemicals used in leather production
  • industrial solvents
  • hair dye or hairspray

The research on this is too limited to say for certain that any of these cause salivary gland cancer.

Salivary gland cancer often does not cause any symptoms.

Symptoms can also occur due to other health problems, so it is important to speak with a healthcare professional if any of the following signs or symptoms occur:

A healthcare professional can investigate these symptoms further using a physical exam and imaging, including CT and MRI scans. They may also take a biopsy, which involves the removal of tissue to examine the cells under a microscope. This helps them identify whether a person has cancer, work out how advanced or aggressive it may be, and suggest treatment options.

The following are some questions people frequently ask about salivary gland cancer.

What is the average age for developing salivary gland cancer?

According to the ACS, the average age at diagnosis of salivary gland cancer is 55 years old. The risk of developing this type of cancer increases with age.

Is salivary gland cancer rare?

Salivary gland cancer is not common in the United States. It accounts for about 6–8% of all head and neck cancers. This equates to around 2,000–2,500 cases of salivary gland cancer in the U.S. each year.

Who is more likely to get salivary gland cancer?

Experts do not know the exact cause of salivary gland cancer. However, certain factors may increase an individual’s risk of developing it. These risk factors include:

  • older age
  • exposure to radiation
  • smoking
  • certain viral infections, such as HPV, EBV, and HIV

Salivary gland cancer comprises a rare group of cancers with unclear causes. Due to the rarity of this type of cancer, there is limited research into it. This makes it difficult to determine exactly how to prevent it.

However, avoiding tobacco use and exposure to radiation and workplace substances, such as asbestos, may reduce a person’s risk of developing this type of cancer.

If an individual finds any new lumps in their mouth, face, or neck, or experiences facial numbness or weakness and difficulty swallowing, they should contact a healthcare professional.