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. Some risk factors, like smoking, can be changed. Others, like a person’s age or family history, can’t be changed.

But having a risk factor, or even many risk factors, does not mean that you will get the disease. And many people who get the disease may have few or no known risk factors.

A few risk factors are known to make a person more likely to develop salivary gland cancer.

Older age

The risk of salivary gland goes up as people get older.

Male gender

Salivary gland cancers are more common in men than in women.

Radiation exposure

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.

Family history

Very rarely, members of some families seem to have a higher than usual risk of developing salivary gland cancers. But most people who get salivary gland cancer do not have a family history of this disease.

Other possible risk factors

Certain workplace exposures

Some studies have suggested that people who work with certain metals (nickel alloy dust) or minerals (silica dust), and people who work in asbestos mining, plumbing, rubber products manufacturing, and some types of woodworking may be at increased risk for salivary gland cancer, but these links are not certain. The rarity of these cancers makes this hard 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.

Cell phone use

One study has 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.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team

Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Last Revised: September 28, 2017

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