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Salivary gland biopsy

Definition

Salivary gland biopsy is the removal of cells or a piece of tissue from a salivary gland for exam.

Alternative Names

Biopsy - salivary gland

How the test is performed

 You have several pairs of salivary glands in your mouth:

  • A major pair in front of the ears (parotid glands)
  • Two major pairs on the floor of the mouth
  • Several minor pairs in the lips, cheeks, and tongue

One type of salivary gland biopsy is a needle biopsy.

  • The skin over the gland is cleaned with rubbing alcohol.
  •  A local pain-killing medicine (anesthetic) may be injected, and a needle is inserted into the gland.
  •  A piece of tissue or cells are removed and placed on slides.
  • The samples are sent to the lab for examination.

A biopsy can also be done to:

  • Determine the type of tumor in a salivary gland lump
  • Determine if the gland and tumor need to be removed

A biopsy of the glands in the lips or the parotid gland can also be performed to diagnose diseases such as Sjogren syndrome.

How to prepare for the test

You do not need to prepare for a needle biopsy, there is no special preparation. You may be asked not to drink or eat anything for a few hours before the test.

For surgical removal of a tumor, preparation is the same as for any major surgery. You will not be able to eat anything for 6 to 8 hours before the surgery.

How the test will feel

With a needle biopsy, you may feel some stinging or burning if a local as numbing medicine is injected.

You may feel pressure or mild discomfort when the needle is inserted. This should only last for 1 or 2 minutes. 

The area may feel tender or be bruised for a few days after the biopsy.

The biopsy for Sjogren syndrome requires an injection of the anesthetic in the lip or in the front of the ear. You will have stitches where the tissue sample was removed.

Why the test is performed

This test is done to find the cause of abnormal lumps or growths of the salivary glands. It is also done to diagnose Sjogren syndrome.

Normal Values

The salivary gland tissue is normal.

What abnormal results mean

What the risks are

  • Allergic reaction to the anesthetic
  • Bleeding
  • Infection
  • Injury to the facial or trigeminal nerve (rare)
  • Numbness of the lip

References

Hsu AK. Indications, techniques, and complications of major salivary gland extirapation. Oral Maxillofac Surg Clin North Am. Aug 2009; 21(3):313-21.

Lacey J.Diagnostic Imaging and Fine-Needle Aspiration of the Salivary Glands. In: Flint PW, Haughey BH, Lund LJ, et al, eds. Cummings Otolaryngology: Head & Neck Surgery. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2010:chap 85.


Review Date: 3/22/2013
Reviewed By: Ashutosh Kacker, MD, BS, Associate Professor of Otolaryngology, Weill Cornell Medical College, and Associate Attending Otolaryngologist, New York-Presbyterian Hospital, New York, NY. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc., Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, Stephanie Slon, and Nissi Wang.
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