Scientists have discovered a new organ: a set of salivary glands located deep in the upper throat.
This region of the nasopharynx – behind nose – was not considered to receive anything other than microscopic, diffuse, salivary glands; but the newly discovered kit is about 1.5 inches (3.9 centimeters) long on average. Because of their location on a piece of cartilage called the torus tubarius, the discoverers of these new glands called them the tubal salivary glands. The glands are likely to lubricate and moisturize the upper throat behind the nose and mouth, researchers wrote online on September 23 in the journal Radiation therapy and oncology.
The discovery is accidental. Researchers from the Dutch Cancer Institute use a combination of CT scan and positron emission tomography (PET), called PSMA PET-CT for examination prostate cancer. When scanning with PSMA PET-CT, doctors inject a radioactive “tracer”
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PSMA PET-CT scanning is also very good for detecting salivary gland tissues, which are also high in PSMA. So far, there have been three known salivary glands in humans: one under the tongue, one under the jaw and one in the back of the jaw, behind the cheek. Beyond them, perhaps a thousand microscopic salivary glands are scattered throughout the mucous membranes of the throat and mouth, co-authored by the study and the Dutch Cancer Institute Wuter Vogel. said in a statement.
“So, imagine our surprise when we found them,” Vogel said.
To confirm the discovery, Vogel and colleagues photographed 100 patients (99 of them men due to a focus on prostate cancer) and found that they all had newly discovered glands. They also dissected this region of the nasopharynx from two corpses of Human body donor program and found that the newly discovered region consisted of mucosal tissue and ducts draining into the nasopharynx.
The discovery may be important in the treatment of cancer. Doctors who use radiation to the head and neck to treat cancer are trying to avoid irradiating the salivary glands, Vogel said, because damage to those glands can affect quality of life.
“Patients may have problems eating, swallowing or speaking, which can be a real burden,” he said.
But since no one knew about the tubal salivary glands, no one tried to avoid the radiation in that region. The researchers studied records from more than 700 cancer patients treated at the University Medical Center Groningen and found that the more radiation patients received in the area of the unknown glands, the more side effects they reported from their treatment. Thus, the new discovery may lead to fewer side effects in cancer patients.
“Our next step is to figure out how best to spare these new glands and in which patients,” Vogel said. “If we can do that, patients can get fewer side effects, which will benefit their overall quality of life after treatment.”
Originally published in Live Science.