URL of this page: //www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003847.htm

Salivary gland biopsy

Salivary gland biopsy is the removal of cells or a piece of tissue from a salivary gland for exam.

How the Test is Performed

You have several pairs of salivary glands that drain into your mouth:

  • A major pair in front of the ears (parotid glands)
  • Another major pair beneath your jaw (submandibular glands)
  • Two major pairs on the floor of the mouth (sublingual glands)
  • Hundreds to thousands of minor salivary glands in the lips, cheeks, and tongue

One type of salivary gland biopsy is a needle biopsy.

  • The skin or mucous membrane over the gland is cleaned with rubbing alcohol.
  • A local pain-killing medicine (anesthetic) may be injected, and a needle is inserted into the gland.
  • A piece of tissue or cells are removed and placed on slides.
  • The samples are sent to the lab to be examined.

A biopsy can also be done to:

  • Determine the type of tumor in a salivary gland lump.
  • Determine if the gland and tumor need to be removed.

An open surgical biopsy of the glands in the lips or the parotid gland can also be performed to diagnose diseases such as Sjogren syndrome.

How to Prepare for the Test

There is no special preparation for a needle biopsy. However, you may be asked not to drink or eat anything for a few hours before the test.

For surgical removal of a tumor, preparation is the same as for any major surgery. You will not be able to eat anything for 6 to 8 hours before the surgery.

How the Test will Feel

With a needle biopsy, you may feel some stinging or burning if a local numbing medicine is injected.

You may feel pressure or mild discomfort when the needle is inserted. This should only last for 1 or 2 minutes.

The area may feel tender or be bruised for a few days after the biopsy.

The biopsy for Sjogren syndrome requires an injection of the anesthetic in the lip or in the front of the ear. You will have stitches where the tissue sample was removed.

Why the Test is Performed

This test is done to find the cause of abnormal lumps or growths of the salivary glands. It is also done to diagnose Sjogren syndrome.

Normal Results

The salivary gland tissue is normal.

What Abnormal Results Mean

Abnormal results may indicate:


Risks from this procedure include:

  • Allergic reaction to the anesthetic
  • Bleeding
  • Infection
  • Injury to the facial or trigeminal nerve (rare)
  • Numbness of the lip

Alternative Names

Biopsy - salivary gland


Hsu AK. Indications, techniques, and complications of major salivary gland extirapation. Oral Maxillofac Surg Clin North Am. Aug 2009; 21(3):313-21. PMID: 19608047 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19608047.

Miller-Thomas M. Diagnostic imaging and fine-needle aspiration of the salivary glands. In: Flint PW, Haughey BH, Lund LJ, et al, eds. Cummings Otolaryngology: Head & Neck Surgery. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Mosby; 2015:chap 84.

Update Date 2/9/2015