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What is adenoid cystic carcinoma (ACC)?

Adenoid cystic carcinoma (ACC) is a rare type of cancer that forms in glandular tissues most commonly in the head and neck, but it can also begin in other areas.

ACC often starts in the salivary glands in the neck, mouth or throat, which make saliva. Saliva keeps the mouth moist, helps you swallow food and protects the mouth against infections.

There are three pairs of major salivary glands and hundreds of minor salivary glands throughout the lining of the mouth and throat. The major salivary glands include:

  • parotid glands – in front of the ears
  • sublingual glands – under the tongue
  • submandibular glands – under the jawbone.

Malignant (cancerous) tumours have the potential to spread to other parts of the body through the blood stream or lymph vessels and form another tumour at a new site. This new tumour is known as secondary cancer or metastasis.

For more information on salivary gland cancer see Head and Neck Cancers. Further information is also available from Head and Neck Cancer Australia and Rare Cancers Australia.

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How common is ACC?

ACC is rare and may account for up to a quarter of salivary gland malignancies. Around 330 Australians are diagnosed with a salivary gland cancer each year (this is 1.2 cases per 100,000 people).

Estimates of 0.3 to 0.5 cases per 100,000 people each year have been reported for ACC in other countries.

While ACC can develop at any age, it is more common in people 40 to 60 years old. Slightly more females are diagnosed than males.

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This information is reviewed by

This information was last reviewed February 2021 by the following expert content reviewers: A/Prof Dion Forstner, Radiation Oncologist, St Vincent’s Hospital, Sydney, NSW; Nick Kelly, Consumer; Caitriona Nienaber, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council WA.