Researchers at the Netherlands Cancer Institute have discovered salivary glands in a previously unknown location. This is potentially great news for patients with head and neck tumors: Radiation oncologists will now be able to circumvent this area to avoid potential complications. The research is forthcoming in Radiotherapy & Oncology.
Advanced technology allows scientists to visualize organs, cells and even in vivo molecules. But what are the odds of a new discovery? Imagine the surprise of radiation oncologist Wouter Vogel and oral and maxillofacial surgeon Matthijs Valstar, who were studying a new type of scan as part of their research when two unexpected areas lit up all the way in the back of the nasopharynx, which looked similar to known major salivary glands.
At the Netherlands Cancer Institute, Vogel and Valstar investigate the side effects radiation can have on the head and neck. The scans they studied highlighted salivary glands through the use of a marker in order to spare them during treatment.
"People have three sets of large salivary glands, but not there," Vogel explains. "As far as we knew, the only salivary or mucous glands in the nasopharynx are microscopically small, and up to 1000 are evenly spread out throughout the mucosa. So, imagine our surprise when we found these."