Context: Researchers from the Netherlands have discovered a new location of salivary glands, which they believe, is good news for patients with head and neck tumours.

More on the news:

  • The salivary gland system in the human body has three paired major glands and over 1,000 minor glands that are spread throughout the mucosa. 
  • These glands produce saliva necessary for swallowing, digestion, tasting, mastication and dental hygiene. 


About the new discovery:

  • Tubarial glands is the name proposed by researchers for their discovery. The proposed name is based on their anatomical location, the other three glands are called parotid, submandibular and sublingual.
  • Location: When researchers were investigating the side-effects of radiation on the head and neck found two unexpected areas that lit up in the back of the nasopharynx.
  • Classification of these glands: The researchers believe that these glands would qualify as the fourth pair of major salivary glands. 
  • Purpose of these glands: The researchers suspect that the physiological function of the glands is to moisten and lubricate the nasopharynx and the oropharynx, but this interpretation needs to be confirmed with additional research.
  • Why was it discovered so late?: The conventional imaging techniques such as a CT scan, MRI and ultrasound have not allowed the visualisation of these glands, which is an area that can only be visualised using nasal endoscopy.
  • Significance of this finding:
    • The discovery is potentially good news for patients with head and neck cancers.
    • These patients are treated with radiation therapy that can damage the new salivary glands, whose location was not previously known.
    • Now the radiation oncologists will be able to circumvent these areas and protect them from the side effects of radiation. 
  • Way ahead: The next step for researchers is to find out how to avoid delivering radiation to these newly discovered glands so that patients experience less side effects and lead a better quality of life.

Source: IE