Scientists from the Netherlands Cancer Institute have discovered a new organ: a set of salivary glands set deep in the throat region's upper part. This nasopharynx region, situated behind the nose, was not thought to host anything but microscopic salivary glands. The newly discovered set of glands is about 1.5 inches (3.9 centimeters) in length on average. Because of their location over a piece of cartilage called the torus tubarius, the discoverers of these new glands have named them the 'tubarial salivary glands.' The glands' primary function is to lubricate and moisten the upper throat behind the nose and mouth.
"Our next step is to find out how we can best spare these new glands and in which patients. If we can do this, patients may experience fewer side effects, which will benefit their overall quality of life after treatment," co-author and Netherlands Cancer Institute radiation oncologist Wouter Vogel stated.
Until now, there were three known large salivary glands in humans: one under the tongue, one under the jaw, and one at the back of the jaw, behind the cheek. Beyond those, perhaps a thousand microscopic salivary glands are scattered throughout the mucosal tissue. The discovery could be important for cancer treatment. Doctors using radiation on the head and neck to treat cancer try to avoid irradiating the salivary glands because damage to these glands can impact life quality.