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A new set of glands? That’s grand!2 min read

October 25, 2020 2 min read

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A new set of glands? That’s grand!2 min read

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Just when we thought scientists have unearthed all there is to know about the human body, new fascinating discoveries are made. Physicians from the Netherlands Cancer Institute (NCI) have discovered a new set of salivary glands in the neck.

The blue arrow points to the location of the new gland. Photo: Netherlands Cancer Institute

Physician Wouter Vogel was conducting some tests on cancer patients when he noticed something unusual in the scans – never-seen-before glands cleverly hidden in the upper mouth region.

These new glands, discovered deep inside the upper part of the throat, have been named ‘tubarial salivary glands’. They are 1.5 inches (that’s approximately four centimetres) in length. Up until now, there were three known salivary glands in humans – one under the tongue, one under the jaw and one behind the cheek. The new glands could be classified as the fourth major gland in the human body! Researchers say these glands probably lubricate and moisten the upper throat, the area behind the nose and mouth.

Hide-n-seek

The reason these glands haven’t been discovered before is because they are hidden very well, and that region is hard to access during normal surgical procedures. This area in the mouth can only be seen during a procedure called a nasal endoscopy, where a thin, flexible tube with a light and camera is used to examine a specific part of the body.

New glands to help in cancer treatment?

This new discovery could help in reducing the side-effects of treatment taken by patients who are fighting cancer. When it comes to cancers in the head and neck that are being cured using a technique called radiotherapy, doctors avoid touching the salivary glands.

A cancer patient undergoing radiotherapy. Photo: Wikipedia Commons

This is because damaging them could make eating, speaking and swallowing difficult for cancer patients. Now, scientists say that if these glands can be avoided during radiotherapy, it could reduce the side effects of the treatment.