Researchers at the Netherlands Cancer Institute have accidentally discovered an organ of 1.5 inches in length on average which has been hiding behind our nose since now. Researchers discovered it while using a combination of CT scans and positron emission tomography (PET) scans called PSMA PET-CT to study prostate cancer.
It is located in the upper part of the throat in the nasopharynx region, behind the nose. This new organ is a set of salivary glands about 1.5 inches (3.9 centimeters) in length on average.
According to the researchers, it is believed that the glands help lubricate and moistens the upper throat behind the nose and mouth.
The discovery was reported online in the journal Radiotherapy and Oncology on September 23.
The discoverers have proposed to name them “tubarial salivary glands” as the new glands lie over a piece of cartilage called the torus tubarius.
Know More About This New Organ
While researchers at the Netherlands Cancer Institute were performing PSMA PET-CT scanning on a prostate cancer patient, this new organ was reportedly detected.
The PSMA PET-CT scanning involves the injection of a radioactive “tracer” into the patient. This tracer binds well to the protein PSMA, which is elevated in prostate cancer cells.
Studies have shown that PSMA PET-CT scanning is better than conventional imaging at detecting metastasized prostate cancer. PSMA PET-CT scanning is also known to be very effective at detecting salivary gland tissue, which is also high in PSMA.
To confirm the discovery, the researchers have studied images of 100 patients and found that all of them had the tubarial salivary glands.
As the focus was on prostate cancer, almost all the patients (99 of them) were men. Further, it was found that the newfound region consisted of mucosal gland tissue and ducts draining into the nasopharynx when they dissected that nasopharynx region from two cadavers from a human body donation program.
Netherlands Cancer Institute radiation oncologist Wouter Vogel said in a statement, adding that the discovery of the new set of glands came as a surprise to them and said, until now, humans were known to have only three large salivary glands: one under the tongue, one under the jaw and one at the back of the jaw, behind the cheek.
Apart from these, there are a thousand microscopic salivary glands that are scattered throughout the mucosal tissue of the throat and mouth.
What Does This Discovery Mean?
The researchers said the new organ discovery could be more important for cancer treatments as it can damage the salivary glands due to radiation and can cause trouble eating, swallowing, or speaking, thus can impact a patient’s quality of life.
The doctors have not tried to avoid radiation in the region of the salivary glands as the presence of these tubarial salivary glands was not known yet.
Records of more than 700 cancer patients were examined by the researchers who were treated at the University Medical Center Groningen and they found that the more radiation the patients had received in the unknown area, the more side effects they reported from their treatment.
The discovery can be an alert to doctors to avoid these new glands during radiation treatment, which means fewer side effects for cancer patients.