What are the risk factors for salivary gland cancer?
A risk factor is anything that affects your chance of getting a disease such as cancer. Different cancers have different risk factors. For example, exposing skin to strong sunlight is a risk factor for skin cancer. Smoking is a risk factor for cancers of the lung, larynx (voice box), mouth, throat, esophagus (tube that carries food to the stomach), kidneys, bladder, and several other organs.
But risk factors don't tell us everything. Having a risk factor, or even several risk factors, does not mean that you will definitely get the disease. And many people who get the disease may not have had any known risk factors. Even if a person has one or more risk factors, it is not possible to know for sure how much that risk factor contributed to causing the cancer.
Scientists have found few risk factors that make a person more likely to develop salivary gland cancer.
Radiation treatment to the head and neck area for other medical reasons increases your risk of salivary gland cancer. Workplace exposure to certain radioactive substances may also increase the risk of salivary gland cancer.
Very rarely, members of some families seem to have a higher than usual risk of developing salivary gland cancers.
Other possible risk factors
Certain workplace exposures
Some studies have suggested that working with certain metals (nickel alloy dust) or minerals (silica dust) may increase the risk for salivary gland cancer, but these links are not certain. The rarity of these cancers makes this a difficult area to study.
Tobacco and alcohol use
Tobacco and alcohol can increase the risk for several cancers of the head and neck area, but they have not been strongly linked to salivary gland cancers in most studies.
Some studies have found that a diet low in vegetables and high in animal fat may increase the risk of salivary gland cancer, but more research is needed to confirm this possible link.
One study suggested an increased risk of parotid gland tumors among heavy cell phone users. In this study, most of the tumors seen were benign (not cancer). Other studies looking at this issue have not found such a link. Research in this area is still in progress. If there is any excess risk, it could be decreased by using corded or cordless earpieces that move the device away from the user's head and decrease the amount of radiation that reaches the body.
Last Medical Review: 09/21/2012
Last Revised: 09/21/2012