Acinic Cell Carcinoma of the Salivary Gland

John Han-Chih Chang, MD and Kenneth Blank, MD
Last Modified: November 1, 2001

Dear OncoLink "Ask the Experts,"
I am a retired RN who does volunteer work. I am taking a new patient for an assessment of acinic cell carcinoma. I cannot find information on this anywhere. It appears to have been in the salivary glands. I am wondering if you have any information on this kind of cancer.  

Kenneth Blank, MD, and Jason Lee, MD, OncoLink Editorial Assistants, respond:

Acinic cell carcinoma is a distinctive and rare malignant tumor most commonly arising in the parotid gland. It accounts for approximately three percent of all malignant parotid gland tumors. It can occur in patients of any age and arises in women more commonly than men.

Acinic cell carcinomas are often encapsulated and may mistakenly be believed to be benign. However, on microscopic analysis there may be extension of tumor cells into surrounding tissue and metastasis may occur over time.

Parotid gland tumors are often assigned a grade (low, high, or sometimes intermediate) based on the appearance of the tumor under the microscope. Most acinic cell carcinomas are low-grade and are associated with less aggressive growth and good survival rates (about 70% at 10 years). High-grade variants of acinic cell carcinomas have also been described- papillocystic carcinoma (Spiro R, Cancer 41:924, 1978) or carcinomas with undifferentiated cells in a medullary pattern (Batsakis JG, et al. Annals of Otology, Rhinology & Laryngology 99:929, 1990). The high-grade variants are very uncommon and associated with much poorer survival.

Treatment of patients with a parotid gland tumor should begin with a complete history and physical examination by a Head and Neck surgical oncologist. Surgery is often the primary treatment. Post-operative radiation therapy may be recommended to help prevent local recurrence. For more information on the treatment and prognosis of salivary gland tumors see the OncoLink Head and Neck Cancer section.