A team of researchers from the Netherlands believes they have identified a new pair of large salivary glands where the nasal cavity meets the throat. If confirmed, it could be the first identification of its kind in 300 years.
“We think there is a fourth [set of glands],” says Dr. Matthijs Valstar, surgeon and researcher at the Netherlands Cancer Institute, and one of the authors on the study published in the journal Radiotherapy and Oncology. “If it’s real, it could change the way we look at diseases in this region,” says Dr. Valerie Fitzhugh, pathologist.
The potential new organ drapes discreetly over the tubes that connect the ears to the throat, in the center of the head. It is not easily accessible as it is tucked under the base of the skull. The salivary glands play an important role in the lubrication of the mouth, helping to speak and to swallow. The presence of these hidden salivary glands might explain why patients who undergo radiotherapy for cancer of the head or the neck end up with chronic dry mouth and swallowing problems.