Salivary glands
Nonneoplastic tumors and tumor-like conditions
Radiation effect

Author: Sally Tanakchi (see Authors page)
Editor: F. Zahra Aly, M.D., Ph.D.

Revised: 13 March 2018, last major update October 2015

Copyright: (c) 2002-2018,, Inc.

PubMed Search: Radiation[TI] salivary glands[TI]
Cite this page: Tanakchi, S. Radiation effect. website. Accessed June 20th, 2018.
Definition / general
  • Salivary glands are exquisitely sensitive to radiation
  • Acute response:
    • Occurs within a few days or weeks of irradiation and is characterized by high levels of cell death resulting in > 50% loss of salivary flow
    • Cell death is predominantly via apoptosis of acinar cells mediated partially by p53 activation
    • Decrease in flow is not compensated for by increased production from other uninvolved glands
  • Chronic response:
    • Occurs months or years after irradiation and may be due to ischemia (as a result of vascular damage) and loss of acinar volume
    • In a subset of patients receiving < 25 Gy, there may be recovery of function within 12 - 24 months
Gross description
  • Firm, swollen glands
Microscopic (histologic) description
  • Acinar atrophy, chronic inflammatory cells, squamous metaplasia of duct lining cells