Ot. 21, 2020 — Dutch researchers have found what might be a set of previously unknown large salivary glands in the space where the nasal cavity meets the throat, the New York Times reported Monday.
If confirmed, these glands could be the first of their kind discovered in about 300 years. Modern anatomy books show only three types of salivary glands, a set near the ears, another below the jaw and a third under the tongue. “Now, we think there is a fourth,” researcher Dr. Matthijs Valstar, a surgeon at the Netherlands Cancer Institute, told the Times.
The report was published recently in the journal Radiotherapy and Oncology.
Dr. Valerie Fitzhugh, a pathologist at Rutgers University, who wasn’t involved in the research, told the Times that although the study was small, “it seems like they may be onto something. If it’s real, it could change the way we look at disease in this region.”
Dr. Yvonne Mowery, a radiation oncologist at Duke University in North Carolina, told the paper she “was quite shocked that we are in 2020 and have a new structure identified in the human body.”
It’s not clear how these glands hid for so long. But, “the location is not very accessible, and you need very sensitive imaging to detect it,” researcher Dr. Wouter Vogel, a radiation oncologist at the Netherlands Cancer Institute, told the Times.
This finding might help explain why people who undergo radiation therapy of the head or neck often end up with chronic dry mouth and swallowing problems, Vogel said.
Dr. Alvand Hassankhani, a radiologist at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, told the Times he isn’t sure these are “new organs.” It’s possible the Dutch researchers found a better way to see a set of minor glands, he explained.