Salivary glands
Nonneoplastic tumors/tumor-like conditions
Radiation effect

Topic Completed: 1 October 2015

Minor changes: 17 February 2020

Copyright: 2002-2020,, Inc.

PubMed Search: Radiation[TI] salivary glands[TI]

Sally Tanakchi, M.D.
F. Zahra Aly, M.D., Ph.D.
Page views in 2019: 270
Page views in 2020 to date: 224
Cite this page: Tanakchi, S. Radiation effect. website. Accessed October 24th, 2020.
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
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