A Warthin’s tumor is a growth that forms in a person’s salivary glands. This type of tumor is benign, which means it isn’t cancerous. The tumor usually grows very slowly and is painless. While some benign tumors may eventually develop cancerous cells, this occurrence is extremely unlikely with Warthin’s tumors.
The exact cause of a Warthin’s tumor is unknown. The development of this type of tumor seems to be linked with cigarette smoke, however. People who smoke cigarettes are much more likely to develop this type of tumor than those who do not. In addition to smoking, age seems to play a role in the development of this type of tumor. People older than 60 years of age are more prone to developing them.
While a Warthin’s tumor may develop in any part of a person’s salivary glands, it is most likely to affect the parotid gland. The salivary glands include the parotid gland, the submandibular gland, and the sublingual gland. Of these three, the parotid gland is the largest, running along the bottom portion of a person’s jawbone and under the earlobe. Though most tumors that affect the salivary glands develop in this gland, the vast majority of them are not cancerous.
Some people with a Warthin’s tumor do not have any symptoms at all. This is called an asymptomatic case. Others develop a range of symptoms, including swollen salivary glands, bulges in the lower jaw, and pain in the jaw. Some people experience a feeling of pressure in the jaw area while others may develop paralysis of the facial nerves. Additionally, some patients experience earaches and problems with hearing, including ringing in the ears.
Diagnosis of a Warthin’s tumor usually includes a physical examination in which a doctor uses his hands to detect abnormal swelling in the neck and jaw area. He may also examine the mouth and look for abnormalities in the facial nerve and altered muscle function. Often, doctors employ diagnostic tests in detecting these tumors as well. For example, a doctor may order x-rays and computerized axial tomography (CAT) scans in an attempt to diagnose his patient. Magnetic resonance imaging tests (MRIs) may be used as well, not only to diagnose patients, but also to figure out exactly where the lumps are located and how large they are.
Treatment for a Warthin’s tumor may depend on the size of the growth and the amount of discomfort it is causing the patient. Often, these tumors are removed surgically. In some cases, it is necessary to remove part of the parotid gland as well.