Imagine the surprise of radiation oncologist Wouter Vogel and oral and maxillofacial surgeon Matthijs Valstar who were studying a new type of scan as part of their research when they discovered that, all the way in the back of the nasopharynx, two unexpected areas had lit up. Areas that looked similar to known major salivary glands.
At the Netherlands Cancer Institute, Vogel and Valstar investigate the side effects radiation can have on the head and neck. The scans they studied, highlighted the salivary glands through the use of a marker, in order to spare them during treatment.
But there, all the way in the back of the nasopharynx, there shouldn't be any large salivary glands, right? "People have three sets of large salivary glands, but not there," Vogel explains. "As far as we knew, the only salivary or mucous glands in the nasopharynx are microscopically small, and up to 1000 are evenly spread out throughout the mucosa. So, imagine our surprise when we found these."
In collaboration with their colleagues at UMC Utrecht, they discovered that all 100 people whose scans they studied had a set of these glands. These patients had a new type of scan done because of their prostate cancer: a PSMA PET/CT scan. Salivary glands show up rather clearly on this kind of imaging. Valstar: "The two new areas that lit up turned out to have other characteristics of salivary glands as well." This was confirmed in the tissue of two human bodies they studied together with their colleagues at the Amsterdam UMC. "We call them tubarial glands, referring to their anatomical location."