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Imaging of salivary gland tumours.

Salivary gland neoplasms account for <3% of all tumors. Most of them are benign and parotid gland is the commonest site. As a general rule, the smaller the involved salivary gland, the higher is the possibility of the tumor being malignant. The role of imaging in assessment of salivary gland tumour is to define intra-glandular vs. extra-glandular location, detect malignant features, assess local extension and invasion, detect nodal metastases and systemic involvement. Image guided fine needle aspiration cytology provides a safe means to obtain cytological confirmation. For lesions in the superficial parotid and submandibular gland, ultrasound is an ideal tool for initial assessment. These are superficial structures accessible by high resolution ultrasound and FNAC which provides excellent resolution and tissue characterization without a radiation hazard. Nodal involvement can also be assessed. If deep tissue extension is suspected or malignancy confirmed on cytology, an MRI or CT is mandatory to evaluate tumour extent, local invasion and perineural spread. For all tumours in the sublingual gland, MRI should be performed as the risk of malignancy is high. For lesions of the deep lobe of parotid gland and the minor salivary glands, MRI and CT are the modalities of choice. Ultrasound has limited visualization of the deep lobe of parotid gland which is obscured by the mandible. Minor salivary gland lesions in the mucosa of oral cavity, pharynx and tracheo-bronchial tree, are also not accessible by conventional ultrasound. Recent study suggests that MR spectroscopy may differentiate malignant and benign salivary gland tumours as well as distinguishing Warthin's tumor from pleomorphic adenoma. However, its role in clinical practice is not well established. Similarly, the role of nuclear medicine and PET scan, in imaging of parotid masses is limited. Sialography is used to delineate the salivary ductal system and has limited role in assessment of tumour extent.

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