Scientists from the Netherlands are believed to have discovered a pair of salivary glands hidden away in the human skulls where the nasal cavity and the throat meet. This discovery of the previously overlooked organ was made accidentally during a scan designed to look for tumorous growths.
The researchers of the Netherlands Cancer Institute have named the organs as “tubarial salivary glands” and stated that this discovery can help to reduce the side effects of radiation therapy on cancer patients. The newly discovered glands are about 1.5 inches in length and are believed to lubricate and moisten the upper throat behind the nose and mouth.
According to a study published in the journal Radiotherapy and Oncology, the researchers examined at least 100 patients they were treating for prostate cancer and even dissected two cadavers before confirming the presence of the glands.
The potential reason why the glands were not discovered till now could be because they cannot be seen with conventional methods of medical imaging like ultrasound, CT scans or MRI, said one of the researchers.
It only came to the notice, when the doctors have used an advanced type of scan called PSMA PET/CT, a new type of scan that helps to detect the spread of prostate cancer
Why this discovery can be helpful for cancer patients
This discovery is believed to be important for treating cancer patients. Till now there were only 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. Apart from this, several microscopic salivary glands are scattered throughout the throat and mouth. The presence of a major salivary gland behind the nasopharynx region was not known.
During the radiation therapy for treating cancers in the head and neck, the doctors try to avoid the main salivary gland as damaging them could make it difficult for the patient to speak, swallow and eat. In such a case, the discovery of the new gland can be quite helpful for treating cancers as doctors were not aware of its existence earlier.
The bottom line
The discovery of the organ is certainly path-breaking and would be helpful to medical science in numerous ways. However, whether tubarial glands should be considered a new organ or a part of the salivary gland organ system is still a debatable issue. Besides, the study group was quite small.