Research in salivary gland cancer

We are always learning more about cancer. Researchers and healthcare professionals use what they learn from research studies to develop better practices that will help find and treat salivary gland cancer. They are also looking for ways to improve the quality of life of people with salivary gland cancer.

The following is a selection of research showing promise for salivary gland cancer. We’ve included information from PubMed, which is the research database of the National Library of Medicine (NLM). Each research article in PubMed has an identity number (called a PMID) that links to a brief overview (called an abstract). You can find information about ongoing clinical trials in Canada from or Clinical trials are given an NLM identifier called a national clinical trial (NCT) number. The NCT number links to information about the clinical trial.

Diagnosis and prognosis

A key area of research looks at better ways to diagnose salivary gland cancer. Researchers are also trying to find ways to help doctors predict a prognosis (the probability that the cancer can be successfully treated or that it will come back after treatment). The following is noteworthy research into diagnosis and prognosis.

Gene-based tests

Gene-based tests find differences between normal genes and genes that are changed (mutated) in cancer cells. Researchers hope that developing more gene-based tests will help doctors identify the best treatments for certain cancers, including salivary gland cancer. Gene-based tests will also help doctors tailor more treatments to each person’s cancer based on their unique genetic makeup


PRKD1 hotspot mutation is strongly linked with polymorphous low-grade adenocarcinoma (PLGA), which is a cancerous tumour of the minor salivary glands. Testing for this mutation may help doctors diagnose this slow-growing tumour and tell it apart from fast-growing salivary gland cancers (Nature Genetics, PMID 25240283).

Overexpression of cytoplasmatic B-catenin is linked to a poor prognosis in people with carcinomas of the parotid gland (Head and Neck, PMID 24500803).

PTEN is a tumour suppressor gene, which means that it is a gene normally found in the body that helps control cell growth and may help limit the growth of cancer cells. People with salivary gland cancer cells that are missing the PTEN gene may have a less favourable prognosis. These tumours tend to be larger and higher grade, and they often spread to the lymph nodes (British Journal of Cancer, PMID 22240798).


Researchers are looking for new ways to improve treatment for salivary gland cancer. Advances in cancer treatment and new ways to manage the side effects from treatment have improved the outlook and quality of life for many people with cancer. The following is noteworthy research into treatment for salivary gland cancer.


Survivin is a protein that stops programmed cell death (called apoptosis), which is when cells die after a certain amount of time. A high amount of survivin in salivary gland cancer cells is linked to more growth and spread of these cells. Blocking this protein may be a new way to treat salivary gland cancer (PLoS One, PMID 25485635).


Positron emission tomography (PET) scan with [(18)F]-fluoromisonidazoleis a non-invasive way to assess a tumour to find areas where less oxygen is reaching the cells (called hypoxia). Researchers are trying to find out if it is possible to use this type of PET scan to give a higher dose of radiation to areas of hypoxia in a tumour, which may help control the growth of the tumour (Strahlenther Onkol, PMID 25245468).


Androgen deprivation therapy blocks the action of male hormones on the androgen receptors. Salivary duct carcinoma cells often have androgen receptors, so androgen deprivation therapy may slow the growth of these tumours (American Journal of Otolaryngology, PMID 25087467).

Post-operative radiation therapy (PORT) means giving radiation therapy after surgery to remove a tumour. Studies show that PORT can reduce the spread of salivary gland cancer and improve survival (Oral Oncology, PMID 26723908).

Fast neutron therapy is a specialized type of radiation therapy that uses fast-moving neutrons to kill cancer cells. Researchers are studying fast neutron therapy to find out if it is more effective than standard photon radiation therapy in treating some types of salivary gland tumours. Currently, fast neutron therapy is available only in a few centres around the world (Frontiers in Oncology, PMID 26640777).

Targeted therapy is an important area of ongoing research. Researchers are trying to find out which types of salivary gland cancer are linked to having more than the normal number of specific receptors, such as HER2 receptors or androgen receptors, on the cells. These receptors help in the growth of the tumour and may be targeted with drugs to slow the growth of or kill cancer (Annals of Oncology, PMID 23933559).

Selective inhibitors of nuclear export (SINEs) are a new class of drugs that may be used to treat salivary gland cancer. These drugs block certain proteins, called exporter proteins. When there are high levels of these proteins in the body, cancer cells can grow without control. Blocking the exporter proteins may help normal proteins slow or stop the growth of cancer cells (NCT 02069730).

Supportive care

Living with cancer can be challenging in many different ways. Supportive care can help people cope with cancer, its treatment and possible side effects. The following is noteworthy research into supportive care for salivary gland cancer.

Radiation therapy can damage the salivary glands so they don’t make enough saliva. Not having enough saliva causes many problems, including dry mouth. Researchers are trying to find out if salivary gland tissue can be grown in a lab and used to repair or replace damaged salivary glands (Biomaterials Research, PMID 26331060).

Learn more about cancer research

Researchers continue to try to find out more about salivary gland cancer. Clinical trials are research studies that test new ways to prevent, detect, treat or manage salivary gland cancer. Clinical trials provide information about the safety and effectiveness of new approaches to see if they should become widely available. Most of the standard treatments for salivary gland cancer were first shown to be effective through clinical trials.

Find out more about clinical trials.

Expert review and references

  • Cros J, Sbidian E, Hans S, et al . Expression and mutational status of treatment-relevant targets and key oncogenes in 123 malignant salivary gland tumours. Annals of Oncology. 2013.
  • Ettl T, Baader K, Stiegler C, et al . Loss of PTEN is associated with elevated EGFR and HER2 expression and worse prognosis in salivary gland cancer. BJC. 2012.
  • Henriques de Figueiredo B1, Zacharatou C, Galland-Girodet S, et al . Hypoxia imaging with [18F]-FMISO-PET for guided dose escalation with intensity-modulated radiotherapy in head-and-neck cancers. Strahlentherapie und Onkologie. 2015.
  • Hosni A, Huang SH, Goldstein D, et al . Outcomes and prognostic factors for major salivary gland carcinoma following postoperative radiotherapy. Oral Oncology. 2016.
  • Lill C, Schneider S, Seemann R, et al . Correlation of b-catenin, but not PIN1 and cyclin D1, overexpression with disease-free and overall survival in patients with cancer of the parotid gland. Head and Neck. 2015.
  • Specht HM, Neff T, Reuschel W, et al . Paving the road for modern particle therapy: what can we learn from the experience gained with fast neutron therapy in Munich. Frontiers in Oncology. 2015.
  • Wang YF, Ma SR, Wang WM, et al . Inhibition of survivin reduces HIF-1a, TGF-ß1 and TFE3 in salivary adenoid cystic carcinoma. PLoS One. 2014.
  • Weinreb I, Piscuoglio S, Martelotto LG, et al . Hotspot activating PRKD1 somatic mutations in polymorphous low-grade adenocarcinomas of the salivary glands. Nature Genetics. 2014.
  • Yamamoto N, Minami S, Fujii M . Clinicopathologic study of salivary duct carcinoma and the efficacy of androgen deprivation therapy. American Journal of Otolaryngology. 2014.
  • Yoo C, Vines JB2 Alexander G, Murdock K, Hwang P, Jun HW . Adult stem cells and tissue engineering strategies for salivary gland regeneration: a review.. Biomaterials Research. 2014.