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What is Basal Cell Adenocarcinoma?

By M. C. Hughes
Updated May 17, 2024
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Basal cell adenocarcinoma is a slow-growing tumor that occurs in salivary glands, which produce saliva. It's a type of basal cell carcinoma, a group of tumors that are known to grow in the deepest of the five layers of the skin. Adenocarcinomas are found in the skin cells that line the glands in the body, also called the "glandular epithelium." The overall prognosis for patients with basal cell adenocarcinoma is generally good; that is, it's a type of cancer that is generally associated with a low mortality rate.

Basal cell adenocarcinoma was identified relatively recently, and is considered rare. In order to diagnose patients with this type of oral cancer, doctors must differentiate it from the more common basal cell adenoma. Adenomas are similar in appearance to adenocarcinomas and follow similar growth patterns, but they are completely benign. Adenocarcinomas, on the other hand, invade normal tissues as they grow and destroy them. Sometimes adenocarcinomas can become complicated if they involve the blood supply or nerves of the mouth.

Most basal cell adenocarcinomas are rounded solid masses, but some develop as tube-shaped structures or have a thin, spread out, membranous shape. Under the microscope, they appear in two distinct cell types. The cells are grouped in little clusters of varying sizes. When examined in the laboratory, the tumors are tan in color.

Though those who develop basal cell adenocarcinomas come from a variety of age groups, they occur most often in patients in their 50s and 60s. Both men and women seem to be equally affected. The causes and genetic predisposition to this type of salivary gland tumor continues to be researched.

Most of the time, these tumors appear on the largest salivary gland, called the partoid; sometimes, they'll appear on the submandibular salivary gland or the minor salivary gland. Generally, patients with basal cell adenocarcinomas have few symptoms. Some may be able to feel the presence of the tumor inside the mouth, but very few will experience any discomfort or pain. Persistent swelling in the general area of the tumor is common.

The course of treatment generally suggested for basal cell adenocarcinoma requires the surgical removal of the tumor. Though they have a tendency to reappear after treatment, excising the entire tumor usually reduces the chance of recurrence. Doctors sometimes recommend subsequent treatment with radiation therapy, especially if the tumors appear in the minor salivary glands. This is because tumors in these glands are likelier to metastasize, or spread to other parts of the body.

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