Baseball Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn to undergo cancer treatment

Baseball Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn is to undergo treatment for parotid gland cancer. The 50 year old Padres right fielder and eight-time National League batting champion is currently the head baseball coach at San Diego State University. He expects to continue this position after he finishes his cancer treatments, which will include radiation and chemotherapy over the next couple months. Gwynn recently told the San Diego Union-Tribune:

“I had surgery for a parotid tumor in 1997 and again three years ago, and both those times there was no cancer. But this time they found a malignancy. They took out three lymph nodes and did all the tests and the results showed cancer in the parotid. The doctors have told me they feel they caught the cancer early and there was not much of it there.”

There are three main pairs of salivary glands in the mouth: in front of the ears (parotid glands), under the jaw (submanibular glands) and under the tongue (subligual glands). These all produce saliva – the lubricating fluid found in the mouth. Saliva contains enzymes that begin the process of digesting food as well as antibodies and other substances that help prevent infections of the mouth and throat.

07.20.beesty1A tumor can form in any of these glands, but the most common location for cancerous tumors is in the parotid gland. Not every lump in a salivary gland is cancer, as many benign tumors and other conditions (such as infections and salivary stones) can also cause lumps. The exact cause of salivary gland cancer is unknown. In some cases, cancer may develop due to DNA damage after years of tobacco use or exposure to radiation. Heredity also may play a role in the development of salivary gland cancer.

Symptoms of a salivary tumor include:

  • A lump (usually painless) in the area of the ear, cheek, jaw, lip, or inside the mouth.
  • Trouble swallowing or opening the mouth widely.
  • Numbness or weakness in the face.
  • Pain in the face that does not go away.

Treatment for Salivary Gland tumors is primarily surgical, with or without radiation treatment and chemotherapy.

For more information, click here to go to the Resounding Health Casebook on Salivary Gland Tumors

Mark Boguski, M.D., Ph.D. is on the faculty of Harvard Medical School and is a member of the Society for Participatory Medicine, "a movement in which networked patients shift from being mere passengers to responsible drivers of their health" and in which professional health care providers encourage "empowered patients" and value them as full partners in managing their health and wellness.

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